Are You Eating These Immune-Boosting Foods?

October 7, 2014

By Anna Varriano

The foods pictured above all have something in common. They are all great sources of a powerful nutrient. Can you guess what it is? I’ll give you some hints:

  • It  has powerful antioxidant functions
  • It plays a big role in boosting our immunity
  • It protects against numerous types of cancer
  • It significantly reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke
  • It boosts brain function
  • It calms inflammation
  • It can be converted  into vitamin A, which is a super important vitamin for growth, healing, immune function, and vision/eye health
  • It typically gives fruits and veggies a lovely bright orange colour

If you guessed beta carotene, you’re right! Gold star sticker for you!

What’s Beta Carotene?

Beta carotene is one of several carotenoids, which are natural pigments found in plants that offer some pretty amazing health benefits. The colour of beta carotene is related to the ‘carot’ part of its name. It’s an orange pigment, so you can imagine that fruits and veggies boasting this colour would be good sources of beta carotene.

While you can supplement with beta carotene, recent studies are suggesting that the health benefits of this powerful nutrient are best realized when we get it through whole foods, and that eating some fat with these foods significantly increases the body’s absorption of it.

 Prepping for Flu Season

Since October is the official start of flu season, I thought it would be useful to let you know about 6 beta carotene packed foods that will help to boost your immune system.

sweet potatoSweet potatoes
are often cited as the best food source of beta carotene, and recent studies have shown that eating sweet potatoes increases our blood levels of vitamin A. Here’s one of my favourite ways to prepare sweet potatoes – I call it “Mashed Sweet Potato Dessert“. It’s simple and absolutely delicious.


carrotCarrots have always been associated with good eyesight. After all, have you ever seen a rabbit with eye glasses? Interestingly, studies show that cooked carrots have a higher concentration of beta carotene than raw carrots do. Some sources also claim that to get the most nutrients from raw carrots, they should be grated – a great addition to any salad!


SpinachDark Leafy greens aren’t orange, but they’re still excellent sources of beta carotene. The orange pigment is simply masked by the green chlorophyll contained in the leaves. Kale, spinach, and romaine lettuce are commonly listed in “Foods Highest in Beta Carotene” lists.


SquashSquash and pumpkin are loaded with beta carotene and other carotenoids. They’re also a good source of numerous other nutrients that boost the immune system. It’s no coincidence that they’re local and in season just in time for flu season!


BasilBasil is a very rich source of beta carotene and offers some other very unique health benefits including supporting digestive function and providing protection against a number of bacteria. Chop it up and add it to salads, soups, sauces, and more.


Red Palm OilRed palm oil isn’t very common in most North American kitchens, but it is a traditional fat that’s been part of the human diet for thousands of years. It is an important source of beta carotene in many developing countries (in the form of crude palm oil) where vitamin A deficiency is an issue. You can find it at most health foods stores. Even Dr. Oz is impressed, calling red palm oil his ‘most miraculous find for 2013 to address the aging process’ given the numerous health benefits associated with it. Use it as you would any other oil, keeping in mind that it has a somewhat strong and savory flavour, and that its deep red colour (which may stain clothing) will be imparted to whatever you’re cooking in it. It would be a great addition to a curry dish or savory soup. It’s also getting a lot of attention as a hair moisturizer!

I encourage you to add more of the above foods to your meals to boost your immunity and overall health. If you need recipe ideas, try typing any of the above foods into the search bar in the top right hand corner of this page.

For other tips on boosting your immune system, check out my Tip of the Month entitled “Ten Steps to Building Immunity Naturally”.

Now, orange you glad you read this post? :o)

Take control of what you can!


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