First Responders- Foods for a Healthy Immune System

These foods can help keep you healthy and should be at every firehouse.

We know as first responders that every day is game day.  This is especially true during this time when the Coronavirus is upon us.  Right now, more than ever we need to make sure that we take care of ourselves so we can better service our communities.

First responders must remember that the immune system is the body’s defense against infection and illness. When it’s weak, you have a harder time staying healthy.  That’s why it’s important to take steps to improve immunity.

Good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system, which offers protection from seasonal viruses and the flu and other health problems including arthritis, allergies, and cancers.  Feeding your body and crew certain foods may help keep your immune systems strong.  Now is not the time to be eating the sweets and drinking energy drinks.  If you're looking for ways to boost immunity, the first step should be to plan your meals to include these 15 powerful immune system boosters.

These foods can easily be incorporated into the firehouse culture to also help boost the immunity of your crew.

Immune system boosters

Citrus fruits

Most people turn to vitamin C after they've caught a cold. That’s because it helps build up your immune system. Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections.

Mandarins, clementines, grapefruits, lemons and limes are among the vitamin C-rich fruit.  Many citrus fruits like Valencia oranges, lemons, red and pink grapefruit and key limes are available all-year round, while other citrus like tangelos and mandarins are available during the winter and spring months.  With such a variety to choose from, it's easy to add a squeeze of this vitamin to any meal.  Personally, I like to cut up some oranges and put them on the table for my crew.  They usually are gone by the morning.

Put these on table instead of sugary cakes and cookies...

Red bell peppers

If you think citrus fruits have the most vitamin C of any fruit or vegetable, think again. Ounce for ounce, red bell peppers contain twice as much vitamin C as citrus. They’re also a rich source of beta carotene. For people trying to avoid the sugar in fruit, red bell peppers are an excellent alternative source of vitamin C.  Stir-frying and roasting both preserve the nutrient content of red bell peppers better than steaming or boiling, according to a study on cooking methods.


Bonus Tip: When You Can’t Eat Fresh, Eat Frozen

Depending on where you live and what time of year it is, you can’t always get your hands on high-quality fresh produce. Keep this in mind: Frozen is fine. Manufacturers freeze frozen fruits and veggies at “peak” ripeness, which means they’ll pack a similar nutritional value as their fresh counterparts. Just choose plain frozen foods rather than those with added sugars or sodium.

Yogurt (lower sugar)

Not only is yogurt convenient and delicious, but it also helps protect your immune system. Since yogurt is a great source of probiotics, it often tops the list of immune-boosting foods.  Yogurt is full of all kinds of goodness for your gut—and your best friend when it comes to fortifying yourself against a nasty stomach flu.  Current research suggested that the disease-fighting probiotics in yogurt help to prevent your worst cold and flu symptoms. Try grabbing some Greek yogurt as an afternoon snack to help you stay healthy.  Be careful however for those brands that add a ton of sugar.  Read labels and look for those under 10 grams per serving.


Blueberries contain a type of flavonoid called anthocyanin, which has antioxidant properties that can help boost the immune system.  These flavonoids play an essential role in the respiratory tract’s immune defense system. Recent research found that people who ate foods rich in flavonoids were less likely to get an upper respiratory tract infection, or common cold, than those who did not.

Sweet Potatoes

The beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, as well as carrots, can strengthen your immunity. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene — a carotenoid that converts into vitamin A — which helps boost the immune system and lower the risk for various diseases.  This antioxidant helps protect the body from free radicals and may lower your risk for heart disease and cancer.


Mom always told you to eat your broccoli.  Why, because it is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as many other antioxidants and fiber, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your table. It also contains potent antioxidants, such as sulforaphane. For these reasons, it is a good choice of vegetable to eat regularly to support immune system health.


Garlic is found in almost every cuisine in the world. It adds a little zing to food and it's a must-have for your health. Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin. Garlic contains allicin which stimulates white blood cells and other immune cells to destroy cold and flu viruses along with viral, fungal and bacterial infections.


Mushrooms contain selenium and the B vitamins riboflavin and niacin, which can contribute to higher immunity.  Plus, they taste great in sandwiches, in stir-fries and on pizza. Shiitake, maitake and reishi mushrooms appear to pack the biggest immunity punch according to research.


Ginger is another ingredient many turn to after getting sick. Ginger may help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce a sore throat and other inflammatory illnesses. Ginger may also help decrease nausea and help decrease chronic pain and may possess cholesterol-lowering properties.


Popeye loved spinach for a good reason.  Greens such as spinach are immune-boosting foods that contain high levels of vitamin C, which not only packs a powerful antioxidant punch, it helps fight off infection and regenerate other antioxidants in the body, including vitamin E.  It also contains folate, another immune booster. Try to sauté spinach with garlic and olive oil or use fresh spinach to make a nutrient-rich salad.  Throw some mushrooms on top to pack an extra immune-boosting punch.


Turmeric is a yellow spice that many people use in cooking. It is also present in some alternative medicines. Consuming turmeric may improve a person’s immune response. This is due to the qualities of curcumin, a compound in turmeric.

Green tea

Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T-cells.


No flu-fighting foods list would be complete without a chicken soup cure-all. And there's scientific backing to Mom’s go-to German researchers found that chicken soup has a compound called carnosine, which helps to fight infection, ease respiratory symptoms, and boosts your overall immunity.   Chicken is also high in vitamin B-6, which is an important player in many of the chemical reactions that happen in the body. It’s also vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells. Add chicken to a spinach and blueberry salad with sunflower seeds for an extra immunity punch!

Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, including phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin B-6. They’re also incredibly high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.  In the same way as other antioxidants, vitamin E improves immune function. It does this by fighting off free radicals, which can damage cells.  If you’re looking for a nutritious salad topper or snack to eat in the car, sunflower seeds are it.


Almonds are another excellent source of vitamin E. They also contain manganese, magnesium, and fiber.  A small handful or a quarter of a cup of almonds is a healthful snack that may benefit the immune system.

Eat right, exercise and stay positive.  When looking for foods to feed your family and crew make sure you reach for those on this list instead of the sugary donuts and cakes that can reduce immunity.  Now more than ever focus on making healthy choices.

Stay safe and healthy.





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