Smoothies have become a hugely popular way for folks to pack a little extra nutrition into a busy day. If you don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast, most of us do have time to chuck some fruit and yogurt into a blender with ice, and drink a refreshing shake on the way to work.
But if all you’re doing with your smoothies is blending fruit, ice and yogurt, you may be missing out on one of the biggest health benefits of these hyper-convenient drinks. You could be adding immunity-boosting foods that not only add depth and fresh flavor, but also support your immune system.
We’ve got recipes for five deliciously healthy smoothies that are pumped with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients tailored for your immune system:
- Bone broth, spinach and chia seed smoothie.
- Strawberry-banana surprise.
- Spinach and nut smoothie.
- Ginger berry superfood smoothie.
- Tofu-banana peanut butter smoothie.
Nutrition and the Immune System
It’s no secret that some foods are better for our overall health than others. Deep-fried foods and those with lots of calories, salt and sugar are generally less healthful than unprocessed fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Especially when it comes to supporting the immune system – the complex network of proteins, cells and tissues that protect your body from infection caused by pathogens such as viruses and bacteria – whole, unprocessed healthy foods are your best bet.
“As a general rule of thumb, fruits and vegetables are an amazing way to boost the immune system and keep it healthy in the long run,” says Kailey Proctor, a clinical oncology dietitian with the Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California.
Stephanie Urrutia, senior culinary educator of nutrition services at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, agrees that produce is the way to go when trying to support immune health. “Opt for a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. The different colors have different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.”
Immunity-Boosting Vitamins and Minerals
Certain vitamins and minerals in particular can really help support the hard-working immune system, including:
This is one of the most important nutrients to support immune health. “This potent antioxidant supports the immune system by stimulating the activity of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which help protect the body against infection,” says Acacia Wright, a registered dietitian at Orgain, a clean protein brand based in Irvine, California.
Urrutia notes that large quantities of vitamin C can be “found in all citrus fruits, tomatoes, red bell peppers, strawberries and broccoli. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning your body does not store it, so it needs to continually be replenished through food intake. It’s recommended that women consume 75 mg/day and men 90 mg/day. There are no proven benefits to taking mega-doses of vitamin C.”
“Zinc is an important essential micronutrient that’s needed for cell development and cell communication,” says Sharon Brown, a clinical nutritionist and founder of Bonafide Provisions, a San Diego-based company that makes bone broths and soups. While you need to be careful not to take in too much, it does play “an important role in the inflammatory response system when your body is attacked with infection or disease.”
“Protein is another important nutrient that keeps the immune system in check and helps promote healing in the body,” Urrutia says. “Both animal and plant-based proteins can be incorporated into a healthy diet. Eggs, chicken, fish, seafood, lean red meats, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, tofu, milk and yogurt are all great sources of proteins.”
Trillions of microorganisms reside in the gut and keeping them in the right balance is increasingly being understood as a key to health and wellness over the long term. These bacteria aid in digestion and may be involved with weight management, activating the immune system, improving bowel regularity and reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
“Beta carotene is a vitamin A precursor that is most strongly associated with increasing the quantity of immune cells,” Urrutia says. Sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, broccoli, spinach and tomatoes are all good sources of beta carotene.
Immunity Boosting Foods
Dena Champion, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus notes that “naturally high-fiber plant foods like vegetables and whole grains tend to have a positive effect because they can act as fuel for the beneficial bacteria in the gut and promote a healthy immune system,” but that “one food alone is not going to prevent you from becoming ill. It’s more important to focus on your overall dietary patterns.”
She adds that “high amounts of refined sugar and saturated fats can also have a negative impact on immunity,” so take a look at your whole diet rather than a single food item for the greatest impact.
Still, the following foods consistently rise to the top in discussions with dietitians about immune health:
- Spinach. “Spinach is an extremely nutrient-rich vegetable, bolstering the immune system by providing the body with necessary nutrients for cell division and DNA repair,” Wright says. “It’s an excellent source of vitamins A, K and C and folate.” Other dark green leafy veggies such as kale can also provide a nutritional boost.
- Ginger. “Ginger contains potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds called gingerols, which have been found to help fight infections,” Wright says.
- Cinnamon. “Cinnamon contains a cinnamaldehyde, a compound with anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antibacterial properties that may help fight against infection,” Wright says. “It also contains natural salicylate – a compound found in aspirin – which reduces pain.”
- Turmeric. This bright orange spice that’s found frequently in Indian cuisine is delicious and thought to offer a range of health boosting effects. “Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects,” Wright says. “It also has prebiotic-like properties that enable it to positively influence gut microbiota, supporting the gut-immune connection.”
- Berries. Strawberries and blueberries in particular are widely available and chock full of antioxidants – compounds that can slow or prevent damage to cells caused by age and environmental stressors. In addition, “strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C,” Wright says.
- Bone broth. Believe it or not, a little bone broth in your smoothie can add a big hit of nutrition without tasting weird. Bone broth is a type of stock made from simmering animal bones and connective tissue for a long time. Much of the goodness from the bone marrow will be left behind in the broth after the bones are removed. “A lot of people are hesitant to add bone broth to their smoothies, but you won’t be able to taste it,” Brown says. It’s very high in collagen, a protein that’s critical for maintaining strong bones and supple skin, tendons and ligaments. Brown recommends spooning or pouring bone broth into ice cube trays and freezing. When it’s time to make a smoothie, just pop a few of the bone broth cubes into the blender with everything else and whirl away. “The bone broth will give you the most bioavailable source of collagen you can consume. It also provides amino acids, specifically L-glutamine. The cells that line the gut, that’s their preferred food source, so you’re giving those cells what they need for a strong immune system.”
- Chia seeds. These tiny seeds provide plenty of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that also support the health of cells involved with the immune response. Omega-3s “can decrease total body inflammation and promote a healthy immune system,” Champion says. Ground flax and hemp seeds are also good sources that can easily be added to smoothies.
- Kefir. Brown says her “favorite food to add to a smoothie is kefir. It’s like a liquid yogurt” that contains plenty of probiotics. “Seventy percent of the immune system resides in the gut,” Brown says, meaning that the cells that line the gut wall are where much of the body’s infection fighting power comes from. “We want to feed the gut,” and kefir contains billions of probiotics that can “help maintain that good healthy gut flora that’s needed.”
Stick with Whole Foods – Not Supplements
Brown says using smoothies to boost your immune system is a good way to source nutrition from whole foods. “When when it comes to supplements, she says, “I would say skip them all together,” unless you’re directed otherwise by your health care provider.
Proctor agrees that you should seek to get your nutrients through foods and not supplements. “We are still unsure about the interactions between other compounds in these foods, so taking them as a supplement may reduce their immune boosting properties. Additionally, there’s no FDA supplement regulation, so it’s hard to know for what whether you’d getting the actual dose advertised.”
5 Smoothie Recipes
1. Bone Broth, Spinach and Chia Seed Smoothie
Sharon Brown’s favorite smoothie recipe is for a delicious bone broth and chia seed combo. Yield: one serving.
- 2 handfuls organic spinach.
- 1 heaping tablespoon cashew butter.
- 8 ice cubes.
- 2 tablespoons organic flax or chia seeds.
- 8 oz frozen chicken bone broth. Brown recommends Bonafide Provisions Organic Chicken Bone Broth.
- 1/3 cup organic, grass-fed kefir.
- 1/4 cup organic frozen blueberries.
- 1/4 of an organic avocado.
- splash of organic vanilla extract.
- 1/2 tsp organic ground cinnamon.
- Combine all of the ingredients in a high-speed blender.
- Blend on high until creamy and smooth.
- Top with fresh berries and your favorite seeds and nut butter.
Kailey Proctor’s go-to smoothie is the “old faithful, strawberry-banana,” with a few surprise additions. Yield: one serving.
- 1 banana.
- 1 small container of vanilla Greek yogurt.
- A handful of strawberries.
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter.
- A handful of spinach.
Put all ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth.
3. Spinach and Nut Smoothie
Stephanie Urrutia’s immunity-boosting smoothie recipe includes lots of berries, nuts and spinach. Yield: one serving.
- 6 ounces milk (soy, dairy or nut as preferred).
- 1/2 cup yogurt.
- 1/4 cup spinach.
- 1 cup berries (strawberries blueberries, or blackberries).
- 1/2 tablespoon nut butter (peanut, sunflower or almond).
- 1/2 tablespoon honey (to taste).
- 1/2 tablespoon nuts/seeds (almonds, sunflowers or walnuts).
Combine milk, yogurt, spinach, strawberries, peanut butter and honey in blender until smooth. Top with nuts or seeds if desired.
4. Ginger Berry Superfood Smoothie
Acacia Wright’s preferred smoothie “combines my absolute favorite immune-boosting foods.” Yield: two servings.
- 1 serving of plant protein powder. Wright recommends Orgain Plant Protein Powder.
- 1 frozen banana.
- 1 cup frozen strawberries.
- 2 ounces frozen, unsweetened acai.
- 1 inch of fresh ginger root, peeled.
- 1 inch of turmeric root.
- 1 handful of spinach.
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk.
- A dash of cinnamon.
- A dash of freshly ground black pepper.*
*Black pepper contains piperine, a compound that has been found to enhance the absorption of curcumin by up to 2,000%. It’s a worthwhile addition, and in this quantity, you won’t notice the pepper at all.
Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend until well combined. If desired, add in more almond milk to thin the smoothie.
Tip: For an even creamier smoothie, add a quarter avocado or 1 tablespoon nut butter.
5. Tofu-Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie
Dena Champion says this high-protein option is delicious. “Don’t be afraid of the tofu. It’ll make this smoothie nice and creamy and has virtually no flavor.” Yield: one serving.
- 1/2 block silken tofu.
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other milk).
- 1/2 frozen banana.
- 1/2 cup frozen sweet, dark cherries.
- 1 tbsp peanut butter.
- 2 tbsp hemp seeds (or ground flax).
- Handful of spinach.
Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.