Skip the supplements and stock up on fresh strawberries, pomegranates, watermelon, and more.

By Betty Gold
Updated March 02, 2021

With coronavirus and regular cold and flu season concerns in full force, you're likely thinking about ways to strengthen your immune system. And for good reason: taking proactive measures to boost your immunity is imperative.

The good news is, the key to keeping your immune system strong is right in front of you: On your plate, and in your pantry or freezer. "Good hygiene, getting adequate sleep, and eating a well-balanced diet all play an important role in preventing and increasing resilience to infection," says Anisha Patel, MD, MSPH.

A healthy immune system relies on a balanced variety of vitamins and minerals over time, which is why it's so important to ensure consistent, positive eating habits. Your immune system is exactly that, a system, which requires ongoing care and maintenance to function well.

Increasing fruits and vegetables and reducing added sugar, are all part of a healthful, balanced diet. While no one vitamin is the star of the show when it comes to immunity, boosting vitamin C and probiotics can help to support recovery from viral infections. Vitamin C supports immune system function and iron absorption, and because your body doesn't produce or store vitamin C, daily intake through the foods you eat is a top priority.

We sat down with Jennifer Tyler Lee, author of Half the Sugar, All the Love: 100 Easy, Low-Sugar Recipes for Every Meal of the Day and nutrition expert Kelly Springer, RD, the creator of of Kelly's Choice, to learn seven easy ways to eat more vitamin C (and less added sugar) in our home-cooked meals.

Start snacking on pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranates are phenomenal super-fruits—and if they aren't a part of your regular diet already, they should be. "Pomegranates are filled with fiber, protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and potassium," says Springer. "Several research studies have confirmed that they're super high in antioxidants and are a natural anti-inflammatory, too. The seeds may help lower blood pressure, fight breast and prostate cancer, protect against arthritis, improve memory, and exercise performance." Pomegranate seeds are the perfect balance of sweet and sour with just a hint of crunch. And while we're particularly partial to dropping them into Champagne cocktails, try sprinkling seeds over toast shmeared with creamy nut butter, or using them to make a vinaigrette that's delicious when drizzled on a farro bowl

Add gojii berries to your trail mix or yogurt parfait.

Goji berries are usually sold dry, and they look like long vibrant red raisins. High in vitamin C and iron, goji berries are great for energy. "They contain the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which has been shown to help you to detox from radiation or smoke exposure," adds Springer. "Studies have also shown that they may help reduce arthritic pain, protect your eyes and lower your risk for heart disease." 

While goji berries taste delicious on their own, they'll add a pop of subtle sweetness to trail mixes, granola, yogurt parfaits, acaí bowls, or these Nutty Superfood Breakfast Bites.

Stock up on mandarin oranges.

They're the OG vitamin C food for a reason: Mandarin oranges are high in both vitamin C and powerful phytonutrients. "Cancer research has revealed that eating mandarin oranges can lower your risk of developing liver cancer," explains Springer. Plus they're perfect in salads, marinades, or mixed into cake (yum).

Whirl up breakfast smoothies.

Smoothies are a deliciously simple way to work more vitamin C into your breakfast routine. “Strawberries, oranges, and mangoes are good sources of vitamin C and make for easy smoothie add-ons,” explains Tyler Lee. For instance, a Strawberry-Peach Smoothie contains 70 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, with no added sugar. Ready to take it up a notch? “Give it an extra boost by using oranges instead of peaches and increase vitamin C to 113 percent of your recommended daily intake. It’s an easy swap,” she says.

P.S. It’s a great idea to keep your freezer stocked with frozen fruits and vegetables at all times—they're just as healthy as their fresher counterparts, and will keep for months longer. 

Cook with Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and spinach.

It’s not just the obvious citrus fruits and berries that give you a boost of vitamin C. “Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and spinach are solid sources of vitamin C, too,” advises Tyler Lee. So let’s bring on the salads and sheet-pan dinners that pack all the roasted veggies.

This vibrant Mason Jar Salad hits all the right notes. “The leafy green vegetables make this salad a great way to power your immune system," says Tyler Lee. "It delivers 130 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C." Plus, you can make it ahead. “I prepare this salad on the weekend, and store it in mason jars in my fridge, for a quick lunch on busy days,” says Tyler Lee.

If you’re ordering your salad at a restaurant, ask them to swap the grains for more leafy greens as an easy way to give your meal a boost of vitamin C. You can also make some easy swaps when cooking at home. “Try adding Brussels sprouts or broccoli to your stir-fries, or adding spinach to your favorite baked ziti or lasagna recipe for more easy ways to give your regular meals a boost of vitamin C,” she says.

Eat more watermelon.

According to Springer, watermelon is a hydrating fruit and major collagen booster because it's is high in vitamin C and vitamin A. "Vitamin C increases collagen, a protein that keeps your skin smooth and your hair strong," she explains. "Vitamin A repairs skin cells, preventing dry, flaky skin." Try one of these delicious watermelon recipes, throw it on the grill, or make your own fresh watermelon sorbet. 

Make DIY strawberry popsicles for dessert.

Speaking of sorbet, remember that dessert can be a good source of vitamin C, too. A cup of sliced strawberries can be a delicious and simple treat all on its own—and it delivers 130 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C. But for a frozen treat that feels more indulgent, Strawberry Cream Pops top our list of favorites. “Naturally sweet and ripe strawberries make these creamy ice pops a delicious frozen treat that also delivers 50 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C,” says Tyler Lee. “They’re fun to make with your kids, and they’re a fraction of the added sugar you’d normally find in a packaged frozen fruit pop.” That’s a sweet reward your immune system will appreciate.

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