Your immune system is your body’s natural defense system. In my Seven Systems of Health, it is represented by the color red and what I refer to as your ROOT system—the instinctual, primal template for who you are. When it is healthy, your immune system can protect you from getting the common cold and the flu, and it can also protect you from developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer.
There are a variety of mechanisms through which your immune system keeps you healthy. One of those mechanisms involves antioxidant defenses. Antioxidants function by quenching or neutralizing free radicals. The generation of free radicals is a normal process in the body, and it does have some benefits. It can help our bodies fight infection by killing invading pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites. When the production of free radicals overwhelms the body’s need for and capacity to neutralize them, cellular damage, inflammation, and chronic disease can result. Antioxidants are molecules that safely interact with free radicals and neutralize them, preventing them from causing damage. There are a variety of antioxidant nutrients your body requires to assist with this process, and they need to be obtained from your diet. A diet rich in antioxidant nutrients can help boost the strength of your immune system.
Examples of these nutrients include vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and a variety of polyphenol compounds, which are naturally occurring micronutrients that have antioxidant properties. Lycopene is a powerful carotenoid antioxidant nutrient that gives some red fruits and vegetables their color.
Did you know?
- Berries contain natural antioxidants like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and a variety of polyphenol compounds.
- Anthocyanins are flavonoid compounds found in strawberries, cherries, and red berry fruits, and they have been studied for their role as antioxidants in brain health and cardiovascular health in men and women.
- Tomatoes contain lycopene, a carotenoid compound giving them their red color that has been studied for its antioxidant benefits in cardiovascular health and cancer prevention.
- Vitamin C is important for your immune system, it serves as an antioxidant, and it helps the body resist infection by supporting immune cell functions.
- Vitamin E is an important fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin. It must be obtained from the diet, and it may depend on another antioxidant, vitamin C, for optimal function.
- Oxidation and oxidative stress can weaken the immune system and are linked to cancer, aging, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and vitamin E as an antioxidant can help protect you against this oxidative process.
- Beta-carotene is an antioxidant carotenoid compound, and it has been studied for its protective role against cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Red colored fruits that support your immune health include:
- These antioxidant rich berries may help raise your overall antioxidant potential and reduce the risk of oxidative stress, which can help improve parameters of metabolic syndrome, benefit your cardiovascular system, and even show benefits for urinary tract infections.
- Cranberries have their maximum amount of nutrients and taste when they are eaten fresh, and you can take advantage of their tartness by using them instead of vinegar or lemon in your salads.
Apples (Fuji, Pink Lady, Red Delicious)
- Apple polyphenols help support the balance of bacteria in your lower digestive tract, and your gut bacteria are a major determinant of the health of your immune system.
- Red apples contain anthocyanins, and apples in general contain flavonols like catechins, epicatechins, and procyanidins, as well as quercetin, all important antioxidant nutrients found both in the skin and flesh of the fruit, which may provide cardiovascular, and anticancer benefits.
- Select apples that are firm and rich in color, and you can expect this resilient fruit to stay fresh in your refrigerator for several weeks. Apple skin is nutrient rich, so consider leaving the skin on, even in baking recipes, and choose organic over non-organic to avoid issues with pesticide residues.
Other red colored fruits to enjoy for their taste and their health benefits include blood orange, watermelon, raspberries, strawberries, red currants, red plums, cherries, pomegranate, and nectarines.
Red colored vegetables that provide antioxidant nutrients to support your immune system and your root include:
- Beets contain phytonutrients called betalains, which give beets their red color, have been studied for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and for detoxification support.
- Buy beets that are small or medium in size, have firm roots, smooth skin, and a deep color, and avoid those that have spots, bruises, or soft, wet areas. The concentration of betalains in beets is depleted by heat, so cook your beets lightly, such as quick steaming them for 15 minutes. Beets can be eaten cooked as well as raw. You can simply grate them and use them in salads or any other dish or soup.
Tomatoes and Tomato-Based Products (vine-ripened, cherry, sun-dried tomato, tomato paste, tomato sauce, salsa)
- Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a red pigmented carotenoid, that has antioxidant properties and may help reduce risk of certain cancers.
- Tomatoes are rich in other antioxidant carotenoids like lutein, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin; flavonol antioxidants like quercetin; and vitamins A, C, and E, as well as manganese.
- The antioxidant nutrients found in tomatoes may have benefits in cardiovascular disease and cancer prevention.
- Pick tomatoes that are rich in color, well-shaped, smooth skinned, without cracks, bruises, wrinkles or soft spots. Ripe tomatoes smell sweet and yield to minor pressure. When cooking tomatoes avoid using aluminum cookware because the high acid content of the tomatoes can interact with the metal cookware, and aluminum can leach into the food, which can lead to health risks.
Radishes, red onion, red potato, red cabbage, red bell peppers, and red jalapeño peppers are examples of other red vegetables that support your root and immune system.
Want more information on how colorful foods can help you achieve not just physical health but also mental clarity, emotional well-being, and spiritual fulfillment? Now’s the time to invite rainbow health into your life. Discover how ancient healing and eating practices merge with nutritional science to help you thrive with Dr. Deanna Minich’s new book, The Rainbow Diet!