10 Foods to Boost Your Immune System Before You Travel

Do you always get sick when you travel? These are the 10 best vitamins, fruits and vegetables to strengthen your immunity before your trip. I also included different types of foods to avoid while you travel (because what’s the point of eating foods to boost your immune system if you’re just going to undo the benefits by eating foods that cause inflammation, cell decay, and other health problems?).

Every bite you eat can strengthen your immune system against possible infections and disease. The wrong foods will weaken your immunity and increase your susceptibility to parasites, viruses, and bacteria. It doesn’t matter how strong your immune system is when you’re at home; when you travel are exposed to unfamiliar bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. This puts you at risk of developing a relatively harmless illness such as a cold or – much worse – a serious disease such as a virus or contagious health condition.

If you often or always get sick when you travel (or on your way home after a vacation, like my husband often does), start boosting your immune system long before your trip. The earlier you start eating healthy fruits, vegetables and proteins, the better. The foods below offer a combination of the best vitamins and minerals for your immune system.

Boosting your immunity doesn’t have to involve travel vaccinations, immunizations or booster shots – but it depends on your health profile, body, and destination. While preparing for my trip to Nepal and India I took a Dukoral vaccination to boost my immune system (Should You Take the Dukoral Vaccine to Prevent Traveler’s Diarrhea?).

Travel in faith, but boost your immunity.

What Are the Best Foods to Boost a Traveler’s Immunity?

Your body, mind, heart and soul is one big interconnected system. What you do for one part of your body – such as taking prebiotics or probiotics to increase healthy intestinal flora – strengthens your body as a whole.

So, instead of searching for the single most perfect or best vegetable, fruit, protein, mineral or vitamin to boost your immune system, eat a healthy variety of foods. This isn’t just a travel hack or tip for before your trip; eating these foods should be a daily habit no matter when or how often you travel! Your body will love you for keeping it healthy. Your energy levels will increase, your mood will improve, and you’ll be more creative.

1. Red cabbage

The anthocyanins in red cabbage not only improve brain function, they also promote cardiac health and provide cancer protection. Other healthy cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower. These veggies also guard against cancer development, increase your body’s detoxification enzymes, and help protect against stroke. The last thing you want are health problems while you travel, right? Red cabbage is one of the best foods to boost both your cardiovascular health and immune system. Two for the price of one.

2. Omega-3’s and other healthy fats

“The fats in dairy, meats and oils are important for the production of acetylcholine, which is crucial for memory formation and general neural integrity,” writes Dr Pierce Howard in The Owner’s Manual for the Brain. Fish and seafood are a great way to increase your healthy fat intake. Salmon, char, haddock, shrimp, rainbow trout and sardines are foods that fight disease because of their high omega-3 fish oils.

Avoid luncheon meats when you’re on vacation. Hot dogs, bologna and sausages are filled with nitrate preservatives, which are added to meat to keep the light red yummy color. Delicious to look at, disgusting to put in your body! According to Joey Shulman, author of The Last 15: A Weight Loss Breakthrough, nitrates combine with stomach acid to form nitrosamine. Nitrates have been linked to cancer.

3. Tomatoes

The lycopene in tomatoes is a powerful antioxidant that fights disease by neutralizing free radicals, the molecules that which damage or destroy brain cells. Tomatoes also stimulate the production of carnitine, which increases the body’s fat-burning capacity. Encouraging your body to build more fat is particularly helpful for travelers at all-inclusive resort vacations who prefer relaxing by the pool instead of surfing or swimming through the giant ocean waves.

If you tend to gain weight when you’re traveling, read Did Your Vacation Make You Chubby? 13 Weight Loss Tips.

4. Ginger

“Fresh ginger is one of the best natural anti-inflammatory foods,” says Michelle Schoffro Cook in The Brain Wash. This herb not only blocks the formation of the inflammatory compounds that lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, it also fights acidity in the body. Ginger is a flavorful food that boosts your immune system before and while you travel. The antioxidants in ground cloves, cinnamon, dried oregano and turmeric are helpful in protecting the brain.

5. Beans, legumes and soy

Black beans, soybeans, split peas and tofu are foods can be particularly helpful in boosting your immune system before you travel. They’re among the “bean and pea” family of foods that boost the immune system and fight disease whether or not you’re traveling. Legumes and soy foods are low in fat and high in protein, and help ward off heart disease and prostrate cancer. Beans contain high amounts of thiamine, a B-vitamin key in building healthy brain cells and improving cognitive function.

Avoid eating packaged cookies, chips, crackers and baked goods – even on the airplane. The hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils in store-bought cookies, baked goods, chips and crackers are not healthy fats and do not boost your immune system. These trans fats contribute to heart disease, high cholesterol, arteriosclerosis, and inflammation. It may seem safer to buy packaged foods at a grocery store when you’re traveling in cities or countries where street food or even restaurant meals seem dodgy, but the health benefits of packaged food are dismal.

6. Berries

Blueberries and strawberries are particularly high in polyphenols, which are a category of flavonoids. Research shows that these berries can reverse some effects of age-related brain decline; other scientists found that flavonoids work with vitamin C to prevent that vitamin’s breakdown and help fight free radicals. Berries are great for boosting your immune system before traveling because they also guard against macular degeneration, various cancers, and brain cell loss.

Try to avoid soda pop or other sugary beverages when you travel. The high fructose corn syrup and white sugar in sweet beverages doesn’t just cause weight gain, it suppresses your immune system and leaves you vulnerable to travel-related parasites and problems. It’s all relative when you’re on vacation, though. If you can’t drink the tap water, don’t have a purifier or iodine tablets, and can’t buy bottled water then drinking soda pop is probably healthier than drinking possibly contaminated water.

10 Foods to Boost Your Immune System Before You Travel
What Are the Best Foods to Boost a Traveler’s Immunity?

7. Walnuts

Walnuts are a great source of omega-3’s, which prevent the decline of cognitive and motor function. Research shows that the combination of omega-3’s and uridine (found in sugar beets or molasses) improves your brain health by increasing brain resiliency and cell functioning. Omega-3’s and uridine also balancs the unstable neurotransmitters that can cause depression and other mood disorders. A handful of walnuts a day is a tasty way to boost your immune system before and after you travel.

If you’re like me, you have a hard time getting back to “real life” after a great trip. Read Rediscovering Joy When You’re Depressed After a Vacation.

8. Egg yolks

The choline in yolks improves memory, learning, and cognition. Trust me: you need a healthy brain when you’re traveling! Research shows that choline can improve damaged brain cells caused by alcohol exposure in the womb – even when taken after birth. Choline boosts cell production, which increases your memory and cognitive function. Other sources of choline are skim milk, nuts, and meats.

Avoid sugary breakfast cereals – including granola – when you’re on vacation. Both white sugar and corn syrup are among the first three ingredients in many seemingly healthy breakfast cereals, such as maple granola and brown sugar wheat cereal. Sugar decreases your immunity and causes inflammation, leaving you tired and vulnerable to foreign invaders.

9. Rosemary

The herb rosemary helps boost your immune system by counteracting the ill effects of aging and providing protection from brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Rosemary also contains carnosic acid, which protects you from possible stroke and neurodegeneration. This herb also has antioxidants that fight free radicals (toxic byproducts of natural cell metabolism).

Avoid instant white rice you’re traveling. White rice – especially instant – has carbohydrates that quickly break down during digestion, causing your blood sugar to wildly fluctuate. This affects your insulin and energy levels, which isn’t just a problem for travelers with diabetes and pre-diabetes. Dramatic blood sugar fluctuations also affect the energy levels of healthy individuals who aren’t diabetic. Choose long-grain brown rice or basmati rice; the granules break down more slowly during digestion and will keep your entire body more stable. This will boost your immune system and increase your energy levels.

10. Avocados

“Magnesium is involved with countless biological and chemical functions in the body, particularly in stabilizing brain wave patterns and in increasing blood flow to the brain,” writes Dr Schoffro Cook in The Brain Wash. Avocados also contain vitamins C, E, K and B-6, and minerals riboflavin, niacin, folate, and potassium. Avocados provide lutein, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids – but they’re very high in fat. Healthy fat, yes, but rich fat nonetheless. Eat avocados for the magnesium to boost your immunity, but don’t overeat them. Moderation is the key.

I also took prebiotics to strengthen my intestinal health because I have ulcerative colitis. That was a mistake! Too much of a good think – healthy intestinal flora – can be very bad. Looking back, I see that I was overzealous in boosting my immune system because I really didn’t want to get sick while traveling. Nobody wants to get sick, of course, but my trip was a solo spiritual pilgrimage to celebrate my 50th birthday. What if I got sick while traveling and had nobody to help me? So I did everything I could to make my body healthy for Nepal and India. I overdid it, but “coincidentally” happened to visit a Tibetan health doctor on a tour of refugee settlements in Pokhara, Nepal. Her herbal medicine balls stabilized my intestines and immune system overnight – and inspired me to write Will Tibetan Herbal Medicine Make You Healthy?

You may have noticed that several of the fruits, vegetables and other foods that boost your immune system are also high in antioxidants. Antioxidants is especially important for travelers because they fight reactive oxygen molecules (free radicals) and unhealthy cells. When you’re traveling you’re exposed to an unbelievable variety of foreign bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites…which means you need to eat lots of antioxidant-rich foods.

How to Boost Your Immunity Before Traveling
Do you get sick when you travel?

20 Antioxidant-Rich Foods That Fight Free Radicals

No matter how little or often you travel, you’re constantly exposed to free radicals. They’re in the food you eat, the air you breathe (smog, cigarette smoke, pesticides), and the medications you take. And – get this – your body produces free radicals as a natural part of your metabolism.

What are free radicals, and how do antioxidants fight them? Free radicals are molecules in your body that are unstable because they’re missing an electron. They try to stabilize themselves by stealing electrons from your body’s healthy cells (a process called oxidation). Antioxidants are molecules that help stop oxidative stress by donating an electron to the unstable free radical. This stabilizes the free radical without damaging the antioxidant

“We generate free radicals as we breathe,” writes dietician Cheryl Forberg in Stop The Clock! Cooking: Defy Aging – Eat The Foods You Love. “Some of them are even beneficial.” The problem is that when the free radicals in your body exceed your ability to subdue them, you suffer from “free radical burden” or “oxidative stress.” This has a direct negative effect on your immune system.

It’s important to eat antioxidant-rich foods when you’re preparing to travel and during your trip; they help boost your immune system and overall health. Antioxidants are found in the colorful fruits and veggies listed below. Fortunately, these natural, healthy foods can be found all over the world. You won’t have to look far or wide when you’re traveling to enjoy these fruits and vegetables! In fact, if the country you’re visiting grows its own fruits and veggies, they may be even fresher and healthier than the ones you eat at home.

In Stop the Clock!, Forberg lists 40 antioxidant-rich foods that are absorb free radicals. Here are the top 20.

  1. Cocoa powder
  2. Cabernet Sauvignon
  3. Sorghum flour
  4. Pomegranate
  5. Sorghum syrup
  6. Dried plum (prunes)
  7. Blackberries
  8. Purple cabbage
  9. Ground flax
  10. Stone-ground cornmeal
  11. Kale
  12. Chardonnay
  13. Blueberries
  14. Plums
  15. Red raspberries
  16. Strawberries
  17. Raw spinach
  18. Oranges
  19. Watercress
  20. Raisins

Boosting your immune system by eating healthy fruits and vegetables doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get sick when you travel, but it can weaken the effects of the illness or disease. A healthy immunity can also increase your body’s healing process and ability to rebound if you do get sick.

Do you often or always get sick when you travel? Don’t rely on these foods, vitamins, and tips for how to boost your immune system. Talk to a nurse or health practitioner at a travel health clinic for advice that is specific to you and your body.

If you’re a nervous traveler who feels more anxious now – after thinking about parasites and viruses when you’re traveling – read 4 Ways to Calm Travel Anxiety and Fear.

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5 thoughts on “10 Foods to Boost Your Immune System Before You Travel”

  1. All these food are generally good for overall body health! But thanks for explaining the specifics and details for immunity and traveling — I learnt a lot :)

  2. I think you should eat all these foods even if you’re not preparing to travel. A healthy diet increases immunity and makes you feel better, which is good for everyone. I try to eat healthy fats and also eat some other foods on your list.
    Thank you for giving me examples of good natural antioxidants, I didn’t know that before.

  3. If you have a weak immune system you’re susceptible to diseases of immunity such as systemic lupus, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (which you yourself have, I believe, Laurie). Even canker sores are caused by a swelling of body tissues associated with a weakened immunity.

    Before and during your travels, be aware that stress is associated with a reduced immune system function. I have an autoimmune disease that flares when I’m stressed and I often get stressed on a trip! Even a vacation. Through trial and error and numerous doctor visits including three naturopaths, I learned that the gastrointestinal tract is a major part of the immune system. Dietary changes and eating the foods to boost your immune system you mention here can support optimal digestion.

    Thank you Laurie, I appreciate your work! I won’t be traveling for at least a year because of coronavirus infection and my weaker immune system, but I’ll follow your blog so I’m prepared when the time comes :-)

    To your health,
    Connie

  4. I’m cleaning out the cupboard on my other blog, and found these food tips. Too good to keep to myself :-)

    6 Foods for Improved Immunity and Overall Health

    1. Sardines for good moods and increased mental performance. They’re are also a low contaminant fish, high in both Vitamin D and Omega-3’s.

    2. Skim milk to boost immune system functioning before travel. Low levels of folic acid and vitamin B are connected to depression, though doctors haven’t nailed down the exact link. They do know that depressed people have lower levels of folate and vitamin B. Skim milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and eggs are high in B, and can stabilize emotions. They’ll boost your immune system because they’re rich in folate and vitamin B.

    3. Edamame to keep blood sugar levels stable. Commonly found in China and Japan, edamame is baby soybeans served whole. High in protein, low in fat, delicious – and since edamame helps stabilize sugar levels, it can improve your mood. If you’re traveling to China or Japan, might as well boost your immune system by eating edamame early!

    4. Blackberries to increase antioxidant levels. Blackberries, blueberries and strawberries are high in polyphenols, which are a category of flavonoids. Research shows that these berries can reverse some effects of age-related brain decline; other scientists found that flavonoids work with vitamin C to prevent that vitamin’s breakdown and boost the fight against free radicals. Berries also guard against macular degeneration, various cancers, and brain cell loss.

    5. Beans, legumes and soy to build healthy brain cells. Black beans, soybeans, split peas and tofu are among the “bean and pea” family of foods that fight disease. Beans contain high amounts of thiamine, a B-vitamin key in building healthy brain cells and improving cognitive function. They’re also full of soluble fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar and helps build immunity.

    6. Ground flaxseed to balance emotions and moods. Whole flax seeds aren’t as good as ground flax – and make sure you keep it in your fridge or freezer. It stays fresh longer. I love flax in my muffins and oatmeal, but I’ve also sprinkled it in my yoghurt and cereal. Ground flaxseed boasts Omega-3’s, which sharpen minds, stabilize moods, and triggers the production of serotonin.

    Other foods that improve immune system and overall health are sunflower seeds (folic acid), spinach (lots of vitamins), and brussels sprouts.

  5. Good list, Laurie, but I don’t see a lot of protein-rich foods. Protein can be found in a wide range of foods that aren’t labeled “superfoods” but they help rebuild and restore the body, from building bone and muscle tissue to making sure your cells are in top condition. This helps boost your immune system and prepare your body for travel.
    I agree that there is no one “best” type of food or vitamin to strengthen immunity. It really is a holistic or whole body effort because you’re right the body is a system.
    Salt and alcohol are both problems for the immune system because they both dehydrate you and cause inflammation in your body. Reduce your sodium intake to eliminate bloating. Instead of salt, season your meals with herbs and spices such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and garlic.
    Thank you Laurie! I was supposed to travel to Nepal in May but everything is canceled. I’m focusing on building my strength and immunity for a 2 week trek in October now.
    Mikki