7 Immunity-Boosting Veggies You Should Taste-Test

5 min read

woman harvesting vegetables

In 1990, President George W. Bush banned broccoli from Air Force One.

At a press conference, Bush said, “I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”

One of the most bitter compounds in vegetables is glucosinolate, a chemical found in ... Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, watercress, kale and broccoli.

President Bush’s distaste for broccoli is not unique. Broccoli is often referred to as America’s most hated vegetable. If you don’t like broccoli, it might surprise you to learn that in 2019, broccoli was named America’s favorite vegetable.

So what gives?  One explanation may be that President Bushi is what’s referred to as a “super-taster,” someone whose taste buds are extremely sensitive to bitter compounds, even in low concentrations, found in food and drink. Super-tasters make up approximately 25% of the population (35 percent men, 15 percent women). One of the most bitter compounds in vegetables is glucosinolate, a chemical found in the brassica family of plants, which includes Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, watercress, kale and broccoli.

The president’s wife, Barbara Bush, may have been what’s known as a non-taster — someone who experiences no displeasure from compounds that taste bitter to others. When Barbara Bush was asked if she liked broccoli she said, “You’re darn right I do. I love broccoli. We’re going to have broccoli soup, broccoli main dish, broccoli salad and broccoli ice cream.” Non-tasters comprise about 25% of the population. Medium-tasters, who fall somewhere between non-tasters and super-tasters, account for 50% of the population.

The good news is that if you don’t like broccoli, it might not just be because you’re picky. The bad news is, if you’re looking to strengthen your immune system, eating your vegetables — no matter how bad (or good) they taste to you — is a smart bet. 

So it’s time to bite the bullet and read about the seven vegetables that are particularly effective when it comes to supporting your immune system:

  1. Spinach– Iron helps us produce energy by carrying oxygen in red blood cells through our bodies. This led to Paramount Famous Studio executives recommending that their now infamous cartoon character Popeye eat spinach for strength and, as a result, spinach sales in the United States jumped by a third. That said, even though the energy-producing power of iron is not quite as remarkable as demonstrated by Popeye, it still packs quite the nutritional wallop. Besides being rich in iron and Vitamin C, spinach has numerous other antioxidants, including  folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, fiber and magnesium.

  2. Red bell peppers– Red bell peppers are a good source of fiber and nutrients such as vitamins C, A and B6. It might surprise you to learn that a medium bell pepper has 150 mg of Vitamin C — more than twice that of  a medium orange, which has 70 mg of Vitamin C. As mentioned, Vitamin C is extremely beneficial to our immune systems. Red bell peppers are also packed with antioxidants such as lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which have all shown the potential to boost immunity. Red bell peppers have 11 times more beta-carotene and 1.5 times more Vitamin C than their green counterparts. Bell peppers are most nutritious eaten raw. However if you’re not eating them raw, it’s best to stir-fry or roast bell peppers (versus steaming and boiling them) to preserve their nutrient content.

  3. Shiitake mushrooms – Shiitake mushrooms are native to the East, where, for centuries they’ve been used as a natural cold and flu remedy. Worldwide, they are one of the most popular types of mushrooms. While mushrooms are technically classified as fungi, not vegetable plants, shitakes are an excellent source of folate, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B3 — all of which have immune-boosting powers. A 2015 study found consuming shiitake mushrooms daily “improves human immunity.”

  4. Garlic– Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine and famous for axiom, “Let food be thy medicine,” recommended that his patients eat garlic daily. Why? Garlic acts as a natural antibiotic, killing bad bacteria and leaving good bacteria intact. Garlic contains a compound called allicin. A 2012 study concluded that: “supplementation of the diet with aged garlic extract may enhance immune cell function and that this may be responsible, in part, for reduced severity of colds and flu.” Although garlic’s immune benefits do not diminish when it’s cooked, some health-conscious people start their day crushing a clove of garlic into a glass of warm water and drinking it.

  5. Sweet potatoes – Besides Vitamin C, sweet potatoes contain two powerful antioxidants: anthocyanin and beta-carotene (which converts into Vitamin A).  Anthocyanin is the same antioxidant that gives acai berries their immune-boosting power. A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that Vitamin A is “known as an anti-inflammation vitamin because of its critical role in enhancing immune function.” A medium-sized sweet potato contains 120% of the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A and 30% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C.

  6. Dark, leafy greens– Like broccoli, dark leafy greens contain glucosinolate, which often produces a bitter taste which discourages animals and humans from eating them. Because of their high vitamin and mineral content, most nutritionists recommend eating at least one helping of dark leafy greens per day. Examples of dark leafy greens are the aforementioned spinach and broccoli, kale, mustard greens, watercress, cabbage and silverbeet, as well as dark lettuces such as romaine, green leaf, rocket and butterhead. 

  7. Broccoli Broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables in the world. One cup of broccoli contains the same amount of immune-boosting Vitamin C as an orange. Broccoli is also high in folate; vitamins A, B and E; beta-carotene; magnesium; zinc; and iron. It also contains lots of antioxidants — all of which are thought to play a role in fortifying the immune system. One of these, glutathione, is among the most potent antioxidants. According to WebMD, people take glutathione to “treat weakened immune systems.” Broccoli has the most nutritional value when it is eaten uncooked.

Whether you’re a super-taster, a medium-taster or a non-taster, try to incorporate as many of the above vegetables as you can in your diet. When you do, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing with each bite you take, you will strengthen your immune system and decrease your risk of illness. If you're old enough to remember it, you might even find yourself humming the Popeye theme song...

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