Between spikes in coronavirus cases and flu season approaching, immune health is top of mind for everyone—and it probably shows on your plate. Perhaps you’re adding a glass of OJ to your morning routine for a little more vitamin C, taking extra care to get those nutrient-dense leafy greens in, or even building your meals around immune-boosters like zinc. But what about immune-boosting snacks? No matter how nutritious you make your meals, it can be hard to resist the call of salty potato chips when you feel like noshing.
The good news: You can satisfy your snack cravings and nourish your immune system at the same time.
Don’t worry, no one’s about to tell you to eat plain raw kale when the three o’clock munchies strike. These nutritionist-approved immune-boosting snacks are both delish and good news for your inner defenses.
1. Orange-Berry Smoothie
Mildly sweet and bursting with flavor, we love this good-for-you sip.
Make it: Blend together one-and-a-half frozen bananas (make sure to remove the peels before you freeze them!) and three ounces of orange juice. Pour into a glass, cover, and freeze for about five minutes. This is your orange smoothie layer. Then, rinse out your blender and blend together eight frozen strawberries, half a cup of two-percent fat plain Greek yogurt, and two ounces of orange juice to make your strawberry smoothie layer. Remove your orange juice smoothie layer from the freezer, top it with your strawberry smoothie layer, and drink up!
The immune benefits: “The vitamin C in the smoothie not only helps boost your immune system but can also help your body respond better to the common cold,” says Amy Gorin, R.D.N., plant-based dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats. “You can also choose to use orange juice fortified with zinc or vitamin D, as both of these nutrients are helpful for immune health.”
2. Sunflower Seeds
Let’s be honest: Sometimes hunger strikes and the idea of spending even three minutes creating a snack feels like too much. That’s when dietitian Bansari Acharya, R.D. recommends a handful of sunflower seeds.
Make it: Aim to keep your serving size to around a quarter-cup, but if you go a little over, just chalk it up to your immune cells being needy.
The immune benefits: “Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant,” Acharya says. “This aids in increased immune health, as it helps to lower C-reactive protein levels, which are known to weaken the immune response.”
3. Sweet Potato “Toast”
Love sweet potatoes? Turn this nutrient-dense tuber into a creative snack!
Make it: Cut up a raw sweet potato lengthwise into slices that are a quarter to a half of an inch thick, says Amanda A. Kostro Miller, R.D., dietitian and adviser for Fitter Living. (One sweet potato makes about four to six slices.) Place them in the toaster until tender, then cool for a few minutes. Then, top with whatever you like. Kostro Miller likes a tablespoon of nut butter with half a banana for something sweet, or avocado with a drizzle of hot sauce for something savory. Consume one or two “toasts” per snack.
4. Apple with Peanut Butter and Hemp Seeds
Make it: To prepare this wholesome snack, slice up an apple. Top each slice with peanut butter and a sprinkling of hemp hearts. In total, you should use about a quarter-cup of peanut butter and two tablespoons of hemp hearts.
The immune benefits: “Apples have many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that help enhance the immune system’s reaction to pathogens,” says Acharya. “They contain a variety of phytochemicals, including quercetin, catechin, phloridzin, and chlorogenic acid, all of which are strong antioxidants,” shares Acharya. Plus, they contain some vitamin C.
5. Mix-and-Match Yogurt Parfait
The possibilities are virtually endless with parfait, and this one will quickly become your go-to when sweets cravings strike.
Make it: Start with three-quarters-cup of plain, low-fat Greek yogurt, says Lori Bumbaco, R.D.N., C.S.O., L.D.N. Then add a half-cup total of fruit, like orange segments, sliced strawberries, sliced kiwi, or cantaloupe. Next, two tablespoons of nuts and/or seeds, like pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, cashews, and almonds. Finally, add about a teaspoon of optional spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin spice and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, if desired.
If prepping your parfait ahead of time, wait to add the nuts and seeds until ready to serve.
The immune benefits: This parfait provides plenty of key nutrients to promote proper immune function, says Bumbaco. The fruit options are sources of vitamins A and C, and the nuts and seeds are high in vitamin E, selenium, and zinc. “Selenium deficiency has been shown to adversely affect immune function,” Bumbaco explains. “Zinc, meanwhile, has been shown to inhibit the ability of viruses to replicate and is necessary to maintain the function of immune cells that build antibodies.”
6. “Immun-ouleh” Salad
Hearty bulgur comes together with bell pepper, red onion, walnuts, parsley, and more in this crunch-filled take on tabbouleh.
Make it: Combine one cup of rinsed bulgur with one cup of filtered water and one tablespoon of lemon juice in a medium bowl. Stir and let rest for an hour, until the bulgur has soaked up all the liquid.
Add a half-cup fresh-chopped parsley, half-cup fresh mint, third-cup diced red onion, one red bell pepper (diced), one small English cucumber (seeded and diced), quarter-cup toasted walnuts, two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, one-to-two minced garlic cloves, and a quarter-teaspoon Kosher salt. Stir to combine.
If you’d like, you can use a gluten-free grain like quinoa or millet in lieu of bulgur. Eat a half-cup if you aren’t too hungry, or a full cup if you need a heartier snack. This recipe makes two-to-four servings.
The immune benefits: This hearty salad goes straight to your gut. Gut health, that is. “The bulgur contains oligosaccharide fiber, which acts like prebiotics and enhances the function of our healthy gut microbiota,” says Bumbaco. Additionally, the garlic and onion add inulin, another type of prebiotic that likewise supports immune function by fueling the beneficial microbes in your gut.
Lastly, the walnuts contain vitamin E, while red bell pepper is high in vitamin C.
7. Strawberries with Kefir
Of all the immune-boosting snacks in the game, this simple one may be the sweetest.
Make it: Top a half-cup of kefir with a half-cup of strawberries. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon, ginger, or turmeric for an added flavor boost, if desired.
The immune benefits: That half-cup of strawberries contains more than half of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. The kefir, too, is loaded with nutrition, since its probiotics and prebiotics help grow helpful gut bacteria needed for a strong and thriving immune system. “Research shows that probiotics improve gut health, and good gut health is linked to improved immunity,” explains Kostro Miller.
Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook community, Eating Healthy, today!