Nutrition and Mental Health: Immunity Boosting Foods


Now more than ever is it evident that eating nutritiously can help us fend off infections. Eating better also has the added bonus of boosting our mental well-being.

In today’s #HBHealthAtHome nutrition and mental health segment, join Dr. Uma Naidoo, Home Base psychiatrist, and Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Mass General Hospital as she shares how to mindfully make good food choices to support your overall health.

You all have to eat, so why not eat in a way that we can not only be healthier but boost our immunity? You might’ve heard your mom ask you to eat your salad, but it turns out that leafy greens, in fact, the greener the better, are very rich in folic, and folic helps our body to build antibodies against things like a virus or bacterial infections. So these are great to add to your salad. And if you don’t like leafy greens, maybe add them to a smoothie or make things like oven-baked kale chips.

Chia seeds are rich in protein, but also very rich in fiber. Other plant-based sources of protein like black beans, legumes, and lentils are very rich in fiber. Fiber is really, really important to our gut bacteria because they work to help our immunity. So including fiber-rich foods like these is super important to help boost our immunity.

Bell peppers, this is a selection of sweet bell peppers and other bell peppers. The smaller ones are the little sweet bell peppers, and they’re not really spicy at all. The beautiful color and hue speak to the phytonutrients and antioxidant boost that these vegetables give. It turns out that red bell peppers are one of the richest in Vitamin C. So why not add that to a stir fry or salad, whatever you like, or even make a lovely hummus and dip them in as fresh vegetables.

We may not realize that things like garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and turmeric also have immune-boosting properties. So try to add these into any recipe that you’re making. If you’re not used to using turmeric or you don’t like the flavor, add a little bit to a smoothie, or even add it to a soup. You won’t know it’s there. But always add a pinch of black pepper to make it more effective. It turns out that it’s the capsaicin in chili peppers which is important for immune boosting, so you might get that in cayenne peppers, you might get them in chili peppers, or you might even get it in cayenne pepper, which is the dry spice.

Tomatoes are super important to help boost our immunity. They contain multiple ingredients, including Vitamin C, that help us a lot. So have that in a salad or use tomatoes for your soups, for your tomato sauce, or for any other dish that you are preparing and consider adding them in as often as you can. Mushrooms, they don’t have to be fancy, any kind of mushroom. But use both the cap and the stem of the mushroom, are super important for boosting immunity.

Vitamin C is not just an in our oranges. And if you’re going to have an orange, I always say, eat the whole orange, skip the orange juice, which is store-bought and has a lot of added sugars. But Vitamin C is also found in things like lemons. A squeeze of lemon on a salad makes it for easy dressing, and you can also use the zest of both the lemons and the limes to add in immunity-boosting ingredients because of the Vitamin C. So I would just ask that anything that you’re preparing, try to include some of these fruits and vegetables that I mentioned. There’s a long list of things that have immunity-boosting properties, but these are just a few to get you started.

Immunity Boosting-Foods Checklist

Leafy Greens are rich in Folic
Chia Seeds, Black Beans, Legumes and Lentil are rich in Fiber
Bell Peppers, Lemons and Oranges are rich in Vitamin C
Tomatoes and Mushrooms contain multiple ingredients, like Vitamin C
Garlic, Ginger, Chili Peppers, and Turmeric have immune-boosting properties

About the Author: Dr. Uma Naidoo works at Massachusetts General Hospital where she founded and directs the first hospital-based Nutritional Psychiatry Service in the USA. She is the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) & Director of Nutritional Psychiatry at the MGH Academy while serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. She also works at the MGH Home Base Program where she treats veterans and their families in the Intensive Clinical Program and Outpatient Clinic.

Michelin-starred chef David Bouley described Dr. Uma Naidoo as the world’s first “triple threat” in the food as medicine space: a Harvard trained psychiatrist, Professional Chef graduating with her culinary schools’ most coveted award, and she has studied Nutrition. The nexus of her interests have found their niche in Nutritional Psychiatry. She is considered a national and international pioneer in Nutritional & Lifestyle Psychiatry, and the American Psychiatric Association has asked her to author the first academic book in this area. Her ongoing areas of research are the clinical impact of the gut microbiome on mental health; the impact of nutrition as an adjunctive measure to reduce symptoms of PTSD, and the foods and nutrients that impact depression and anxiety. Due to her avid love for baking, having completed pastry classes at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, she is also very interested in the link with sugar and mental health disorders.