White blood cells are primarily needed for fighting infection. They’re found all over the body in the blood, and look out for invaders that could cause illness.
We all have a unique number of white blood cells in our bodies, but the normal range is usually between 4,000 and 11,000 per microliter of blood. If you have a white blood cell count of less than 4,000 per microliter, this may mean that your body isn’t able to fight off infection the way it should.
Your doctor may be able to help you increase your white blood cell count by treating a medical issue that’s causing low levels in your body. While receiving treatment, you can also take steps to increase your levels through eating the right immune-boosting foods.
Even if you don’t have a low white blood cell count, if you want a stronger immune system, make sure to add more of the following foods to your diet:
1. Citrus fruits
Did your mum ever make you drink a glass of orange juice when you were ill? This is because vitamin C can help build up your immune system. Experts think that the vitamin can stimulate both the production and function of white blood cells, giving it a key role in fighting infections.
Oranges, lemons and limes are all citrus fruits with high vitamin C content. You can also benefit from vitamin C in pure orange and lemon juice. Our bodies don’t produce vitamin C themselves, so we need a daily dose of the stuff to stay immune-healthy.
Not all yogurts are created the same, so if you want to give your immune system a boost, look particularly for yogurts that contain live and active cultures. This dietary source of probiotics will help keep your immune system in shape. Many yogurts are also fortified with vitamin D, which is thought to boost our body’s natural defences against diseases.
Greek yogurts are usually good for immune support. Look for plain yogurts, rather than yogurts that have been flavoured with sugars and sweeteners. You can always add a sprinkle of cinnamon, a squirt of honey or a fresh fruit topping to add a little sweetness.
If citrus fruits aren’t your thing, spinach is another food that’s packed with vitamin C. Not only is spinach great for boosting white blood cell production, it’s also packed full of antioxidants and beta-carotene, which is thought to help our immune systems fight off infections more effectively.
Lightly cooking spinach enhances its vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid, but be careful not to leave it on the heat for too long, or it’ll lose its nutrients. Add spinach to your salads, cheese tarts, pasta bakes and pizzas for a healthy kick.
Ginger biscuits are another age-old mum favourite for illness, and this is because ginger has been found to decrease inflammation, which can in turn help reduce a sore throat and other inflammatory illnesses. There are also studies that have found ginger effective in decreasing nausea, especially in people who suffer from travel sickness.
Ginger is best taken in its raw, unprocessed form. Try chopping a thumb-sized piece of ginger and adding it to boiling water to make ginger tea. You can also purchase ginger supplements from your local health store, or add ground ginger to your sweet and savoury recipes.
Garlic is one of the most powerful infection-fighting foods in the world, and has been used to ward off illnesses for hundreds of years. It’s thought that garlic’s immune-boosting properties come from its sulphur-containing compounds, like allicin, which help white blood cells to more effectively fight off germs.
Like ginger, you’re best taking garlic in its unprocessed form. You can fry or roast garlic cloves and add them to savoury dishes like stir fries, pizzas, curries, stews, pasta bakes, and naan breads. As a quicker option, you can also take garlic supplements or add garlic powder to your foods.
6. Red bell peppers
We all think of citrus fruits as being the best source of vitamin C, but this isn’t actually true. One ounce of red bell peppers contains twice as much vitamin C as one ounce of citrus. They’re also a good source of beta carotene, another effective infection-fighter.
Red bell peppers are incredibly versatile, and can be eaten raw, fried, roasted or baked in a variety of dishes. They make a great stir fry addition, and also taste delicious in rice and couscous dishes.
Almonds contain vitamin E, which experts think is key to a healthy immune system. Not only is vitamin E a potent antioxidant, it also helps the immune system fight infections and widens blood vessels, which prevents the formation of clots.
Many foods contain vitamin E, including some cereals, nuts and leafy greens, but almonds are a particularly good source of the vitamin. One serving of almonds alone is thought to provide nearly 100 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E. Eat them raw or toasted as a satisfying, healthy snack.
Increasing your white blood cell count will help you stay healthier and illness-free throughout the year. Make sure to include more of these immune-boosting foods in your diet, especially during the colder winter months, when viruses and infection spread more easily.
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