It’s the height of summer in the northern parts of the planet. And, if you’re like most people, the last thing you probably feel like doing is spending hours cooking; a hot stove or a hot oven doesn’t necessarily mix well with a hot day.
That’s why salads are such a go-to in the summer months. Not only are salads quick, easy, and healthy meals, but many of them require zero cooking—which is a definite selling point during the scorching summer months.
But salads are more than a convenient, no-heat summer meal. Depending on what you put in and on your salad, it’s a meal that can also deliver some serious immune-boosting benefits—which is more important this summer, as the world continues to battle COVID-19, than ever.
“Whole plant foods offer a wide variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals—compounds in plants that work with nutrients and each other to protect our cells and support our body systems,” says sports dietitian Kelly Jones. “Phytochemicals especially support our immunity through antioxidant roles, where they act to protect our cells from damage caused by oxidation, as well as support healthy gut bacteria, which in turn help to regulate immune system function.”
Let’s take a look at seven foods you can add to your salad to help boost your immunity this summer:
Every salad needs a base. And if you want your salad to deliver immune-boosting benefits, use greens for your base—the darker the better.
“Darker greens contain higher levels of phytochemicals as well as more vitamins A and C, both nutrients that support immune and antioxidant processes,” says Jones. “Spinach also offers more vitamin E than many other lettuces, and vitamin E is an immune nutrient many Americans don’t consume enough of.”
“Kale, mustard greens, collard greens, chard, red leaf lettuce, and watercress are packed with the phytonutrients the immune system needs to optimally function,” says Nichole Dandrea, RDN, founder of Purely Planted. “Green vegetables are rich in folate, as well as phytonutrients, including lutein and zeaxanthin.”
Typically, mushrooms are mild in flavor, making them a versatile ingredient that could work in a number of salads. But what mushrooms are not mild in? Immune-boosting benefits.
“Even the most common variety of mushroom—like white, crimini, and Portobello—have been studied for their immune-modulating and enhancing abilities,” says Dandrea. “Additionally, mushrooms may increase an important immune-balancing compound called secretory IgA.”
Lemons, limes, oranges, citrus fruits of all kinds…all are packed with antioxidants, all are rich in vitamin C, and all are perfect additions to your salad.
“Citrus fruits, in their whole form, are rich in protective antioxidants like vitamin C, which can help to support immunity and make you less susceptible to infections,” says Dandrea. “Oranges make delicious dressings and salad toppers, [and you can] also consider adding lemon and lime juice to salad dressings.”
Red Bell Pepper
If you really want to get the immunity-boosting benefits of vitamin C, beyond citrus fruit, there’s a salad topper that’s even better—and that’s red bell pepper.
“Red peppers have twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruits,” says Dandrea. “They also contain vitamin E and beta-carotene, which also play a role in immunity.”
“Bell peppers…can boost the production of white blood cells that play a key role in ridding the body of unwanted microbes,” says Emily Danckers, RD. That’s all thanks to the large dose of vitamin C it delivers.
Walnuts will add a nice crunch to your salad—and they’ll also add nutrients that can help support healthy immune function.
“Walnuts…aren’t just delicious on a salad; they also contain vitamin E and omega 3s,” says Danckers. “Vitamin E has been shown to boost immune function by affecting T cells, and omega 3s are anti-inflammatory.”
If you want to add a little sweetness and a serious amount of antioxidant power to your salad, sprinkle a handful of berries over your greens.
“All types of berries including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, are high in phytonutrients and vitamins that can foster a healthy immune system,” says Dandrea. “Blueberries also have a phytonutrient called pterostilbene, which has been shown to fight disease.”
Plants aren’t the only immune-boosting foods you can add to your salad. If you want to up the protein—and up the benefits to your immune system—try incorporating salmon into your salads.
“Adding salmon as your protein source in salad also means providing a healthy dose of omega-3 DHA, the active form of this healthy fat that helps the body engage in proper inflammatory responses,” says Jones. “Salmon is also rich in vitamin D. While it’s best known for its role in bone health, vitamin D has been shown to have antioxidant properties and a direct role in our immune system functions.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.