Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about ways to boost immunity through the foods and drinks we eat. While such discussions often recommend smoothies, if you’re looking for a delicious, immune-system boosting drink that’s not a smoothie, check out the following five drinks – with recipes – that can help boost your immune system:
- Aqua fresca.
- Fruity chia refresher.
- Hemp or cashew milk.
- Lemon ginger tea.
Kailey Proctor, a clinical oncology dietitian at the Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, recommends drinking kefir, a creamy, yogurt-like beverage made from fermented cow or goat milk.
“Kefir is an excellent source of probiotics, like most fermented foods,” she says, but what distinguishes it is a specific type of bacteria called Lactobacillus kefiri that has been shown to protect us from infections.
Kefir might also have the potential to fight cancer, she adds. “In cell studies, kefir appears to boost the immune system, which means tumor cell growth is reduced.” She underscores that these studies were conducted in cells in a lab, not in humans, but some of the effects could transfer.
Keeping your gut healthy is all part of boosting immunity, says Mary Cochran, a registered dietitian with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. The gut “is a site of major immune system activity,” and as such, drinking beverages that are rich in probiotics such as kefir can be a good step in that direction.
But it’s not just the bacteria that makes kefir a good choice. “An added benefit of drinking kefir over other fermented drinks such as kombucha is that kefir products are often fortified with vitamin D, which has been found to play an essential role in healthy immune system functioning,” Cochran says.
If you’re going to add kefir, Cochran recommends “sticking with plain kefir for less added sugar, or at least avoiding kefir products with more than 12 grams of added sugar per serving.”
If you’re not feeling the whole dairy product thing, why not reach for a refreshing glass of aqua fresca? “Popular in Mexico and Central America, agua fresca is a delicious blend of water, whole fruit and lime juice,” Cochran says. Agua fresca is high in vitamin C, a key antioxidant that can support a healthy immune system.
She offers the following simple recipe:
- Add 1 cup of fruit (pineapples, oranges and strawberries are all rich in vitamin C), juice of 1/2 a lime and 1 cup of water to a standard blender.
- “Blend on high, pour and enjoy,” Cochran says.
If you’d like a little spritz of bubbles, you can also try using unsweetened sparkling water.
Fruity Chia Refresher
Cochran notes that zinc is another “important mineral needed for healthy immune function, and chia sees are chock full of it. Just 2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain 12% of your daily value of zinc.”
Though you can certainly add a handful of chia seeds to any smoothie for an instant boost of zinc, Cochran also recommends trying this delicious and refreshing non-smoothie drink:
- Combine 1 cup water with 3 tablespoons of chia seeds in a tall glass, cover and let soak for 15 to 20 minutes in your fridge. The chia seeds will swell and create a gel-like substance.
- Thin the mixture with 1 cup of your favorite, no-sugar-added juice. Cochran recommends 100% pomegranate or cherry juice, as “both are very rich in antioxidants for more immune system support.”
- Stir to combine and enjoy.
Hemp or Cashew Milk
Cashews and hemp hearts, which are hulled hemp seeds that look a bit like wild rice and can be found at specialty and health food stores, are both excellent sources of zinc. You can buy pre-made versions of hemp and cashew milk. Cochran recommends choosing an unsweetened variety because “eating a diet high in added sugars can increase inflammation and wear down your immune system over time.”
She also recommends making a “cool and creamy summer beverage with them” with this simple recipe:
- Measure 3 tablespoons of hemp hearts or 1/4 cup cashews into a small bowl. Cover with hot water and let soak for 1 hour or cover with room temperature water and soak overnight until soft.
- Once the hemp hearts or cashews have softened, drain and discard the water.
- Add the seeds or nuts to a blender and combine with 1 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon of maple syrup if you want more sweetness.
- Blend on high.
“You can drink it straight from the blender or strain it through a fine mesh sieve for a smoother texture,” she says.
Lemon Ginger Tea
The sharp and earthy flavors of lemon and ginger have always tasted great together, “but this pairing can also go a long way in supporting your immune system,” Cochran says. “Lemon juice is very high in immunity-strengthening vitamin C and fresh ginger root is rich in antioxidants that fight inflammation. There have even been studies to show that ginger is particularly effective at fighting off respiratory illness.”
Cochran offers an easy recipe for a delicious tea:
- Add 1 cup of water to a saucepan and 1 to 2 nickel-sized slices of fresh ginger root. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes (or longer for a more intense flavor). Let cool slightly.
- To a mug, add juice of 1/2 a small lemon, and then add the ginger water. You can keep the ginger slices in your mug if you like.
- Drink as is, or add 1/2 tsp honey or maple syrup for a hint of sweetness.
“If you can’t bear drinking hot things in the summer, you can double the amount of ginger and lemon, cool the ginger water to room temperature and serve over ice,” she adds.
Cochran recommends opting for whole, unprocessed foods, and that’s where some of these fun and tasty drinks can help. “They taste good, they add novelty, but they also include many of the major foods groups that have the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support healthy immune function.”