Snack Unknown

In my last article I focused on the immune-boosting properties of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria grown from cultured and fermented foods.  This month, in the spirit of Chanukah – associated with the miraculous cruise of olive oil – I’d like to discuss a variety of different foods that Hashem endowed with miraculous immune-boosting qualities.

Here’s a summary of the most powerful foods proven to have immune-enhancing effects, which I adapted from 9 Power Foods that Boost Immunity, by Amanda MacMillan and Tamara Schryver, RD (2009):

1. Beta carotene-rich foods – sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, cantaloupe:

Suggested amount: Half a cup of any one of these foods.

Immune benefits: The body converts the beta-carotene contained in these foods into Vitamin A.  Vitamin A is needed for the skin to serve as a first line of defense against bacteria and viruses, as well as for the body to produce connective tissue.

2. Oats and barley:

Suggested amount: One serving (1/2 cup cooked) a day of either one.

Immune benefits: These foods contain beta glucan, a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. It boosts immunity, speeds wound healing, and may help antibiotics work better.

3. Fish, especially wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring:

Suggested amount: Two servings (3-4 ounces) a week.

Immune benefits: Fish is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which reduce inflammation, increase airflow, and protect the lungs from colds and respiratory infections.

4. Zinc-rich foods – chicken , turkey, beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, whole grains, wheat germ:

Suggested amount: Select from these daily throughout the week.

Immune benefits: Zinc decreases the risks of infection and helps in the development of white blood cells and wound healing.

5. Chicken soup:

Suggested amount: Whenever you’re feeling under the weather.

Immune benefits: Chicken soup has antibiotic properties and soothes sinuses.

6. Garlic or garlic capsules:

Suggested amount: 1–2 raw or slightly cooked garlic cloves daily added to food; garlic capsules should contain 5,000 micograms of the active ingredient allicin.

Immune benefits: Garlic helps fight infection and bacteria.

7. Tea:

Suggested amount: Two or more cups of organic green tea daily.

Immune benefits: Contains the amino acid L-theanine, which contributes to immune-boosting abilities; steeping and bobbing the tea bag may increase its antioxidant level.

8. Mushrooms, especially shiitake, maitake, and reishi:

Suggested amount: A quarter to one ounce daily; fresh mushrooms are best.

Immune benefits: Mushrooms increase the productivity and activity of white blood cells.

9. Live active cultures, found in cultured dairy (yogurt, kefir), fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles), soy-based products (tempeh, miso, natto), and probiotic capsules:

Suggested amount: Vary your sources and eat several times a week.

Immune benefits: These foods increase antibodies in the digestive tract and may strengthen immunity throughout the body.

Dr. Shmuel Shields is a N.Y.S. Certified Nutritionist who works with children and adults.  His Torah-based book on health, L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, is available directly through the author, online, and at Jewish bookstores near you.  For more information about his book and unique line of multivitamin-mineral supplements,  To order directly through the author or for a consultation with Dr. Shields, contact him at or call (718) 544-4036.  Most insurance plans are accepted.  House calls, phone and e-mail consultations, and guest speaking can be arranged. 

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