Nutrients Important For Your Tonsils And Adenoids (Immune System), And Foods They Are Found In

Photo credit: Nhia Moua

Photo credit: Nhia Moua

Tonsils and adenoids are part of the immune system, and are made of lymphatic tissue. They work by trapping germs that come into the body through the nose and mouth. Adenoids usually shrink after age 5.

Because of their location, tonsils and adenoids are the first line of defense against pathogens that we eat or inhale, making them an important part of our immunological defense mechanisms. They also are important for the health of our oral and digestive microbiomes (good bacteria in our mouths and guts respectively).

When we have enlarged, inflammatory and infectious problems with our tonsils and adenoids, it means our immune system is in overdrive and something is chronically triggering this heightened response. Problems with tonsils and adenoids are a symptom that something else is happening in the body.

Removing the tonsils and adenoids (the usual treatment for persistent issues) does not necessarily address the underlying cause of why the immune system is chronically stimulated. Leaving this issue unaddressed leads to further health problems over time. 

Seventy percent of our immune systems reside in our gut microbiome. Imbalances here adversely affect our entire bodies. Gut dysbiosis (abnormal gut bacteria) and leaky gut are primary causes of chronic immune system stimulation, dysregulation, and inflammation in the body.

Before undergoing surgery for tonsil and adenoidectomy, many patients have been on multiple rounds of antibiotics, and use over the counter pain medications to manage symptoms.

  • Antibiotics damage the gut microbiome leading to dysbiosis and leaky gut, weakening the immune system, and impairing digestive health.

  • Pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can adversely affect the integrity of the gut, the microbiome, and therefore the immune system.

Whenever we have gut involvement and impairment of the microbiome, this also adversely affects the digestion, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients from foods we eat, leading to further complications of nutrient inadequacy and deficiency.

To support the immune system from a nutritional perspective, it is beneficial to explore diet, food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances, and the health of the microbiome.

  • Poor diet can adversely affect the microbiome and lead to dysbiosis and leaky gut.

  • Food allergies and sensitivities cause dysregulation of the microbiome, and dysregulation of the microbiome can cause food allergies and sensitivities, resulting in leaky gut.

  • Food allergies and intolerances are linked to adenoid and tonsillar enlargement. 

A qualified health care practitioner skilled in the functional approach to medicine, like a functional and clinical nutritionist, can guide you through the appropriate testing and interventions for YOUR case to address your gut and immune system.  

There are interventions that can be implemented now to strengthen your immune system and calm down its chronic stimulation. Food is medicine and is our first line of defense against illness and disease. 

We start by removing inflammatory processed, sugary, and artificial foods from the diet. Gluten, dairy and soy are frequently problematic.  We can also incorporate foods containing immune boosting nutrients into our diets.  

Incorporate these nutrients into your diet to help boost your immune system

Nutrients important for boosting the immune system: Vitamins A, B6, C, D, and E, folate, iron, selenium, zinc, probiotics

Foods containing nutrients to help boost your immune system

Vitamin A: Beef liver, cod liver oil, egg, butter, milk, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, cantaloupe, mango, spinach, broccoli, kale, collard greens, butternut squash (essentially all red, orange, yellow, and green plant foods)

Vitamin B6: Tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potato, potato, sunflower seeds, spinach 

Vitamin C: All will be higher in vitamin C if uncooked. Bell peppers, papaya, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, kiwi 

Vitamin D: Salmon, herring and sardines, cod liver oil, canned light tuna (lower in mercury), oysters, egg yolk, mushrooms

Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, avocados, turnip greens, asparagus, mustard greens 

Folate: Liver, chicken giblets, egg yolk, dried beans, lentils, split peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, beet root, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens, kale, bok choy, asparagus, oranges, peaches

Iron: Beef, chicken liver, oysters, clams, tuna (light canned in water), muscles, raisins, prune juice, prunes, potato with skin, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard, beans, lentils, hazelnuts, cashews

Selenium: Tuna, sardines, salmon, turkey, cod, chicken, lamb, beef

Zinc: Beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, quinoa, turkey

Probiotic foods*: Kefir, cultured vegetables (sauerkraut and kimchi), kombucha, coconut Kefir, natto, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, salted gherkin pickles, tempeh, miso, brine-cured olives

*Some probiotic foods are dairy and soy, and can be problematic for some people. Probiotic foods are also high in histamine, which some people are sensitive or intolerant to.

Avoid High Mercury Fish

High mercury fish: Bluefish, grouper, mackerel (Spanish, Gulf, King), marlin, orange roughy, sea bass (Chilean), shark, swordfish, tilefish, and tuna (canned albacore, yellowfin, bigeye, ahi)

Low mercury fish: anchovies, butterfish, catfish, croaker (Atlantic),  flounder, haddock (Atlantic), hake, herring, mackerel (North Atlantic, chub), mullet, perch (ocean), pollock, salmon (fresh, wild), sardines, sole (Pacific), squid, tilapia, trout (freshwater), whitefish, and whiting

General Recommendations

Go organic when possible for fruits and vegetables.

Go organic, pastured, free range, grass fed, wild caught, etc. for animal products.

Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day.

Tonsil and Adenoidectomy Post Op Diet Ideas

It is important to stay nourished and hydrated after surgery, therefore getting in adequate protein and liquids is important for healing and for overall health and wellness. 

Hot (temperature and spicy), acidic foods (like citrus and tomato), and crunchy foods may irritate the throat after surgery and should be avoided. Think cool and soothing.

Start with liquids and add soft solids as you are able.

What to eat and drink:

  • Lots of water

  • Coconut water is a natural and healthy source of electrolytes (instead of Gatorade or sports drinks)

  • Coconut ice cream (preferred over regular dairy* ice cream)

  • Milk alternatives: almond, coconut, flaxseed, hazelnut, hemp, and rice

  • Banana ice cream    

    • Frozen banana, berries, other favorite items (even raw cacao to make it chocolate), can add coconut oil and/or avocado for healthy fats and calories, blend in food processor or blender

  • Chocolate pudding (made healthy)

    • Mashed avocado, raw cacao powder to taste, honey or maple syrup to taste (really tastes like chocolate pudding AND is loaded with healthy fats)

  • Applesauce, soft canned fruits like peaches, mashed bananas

  • Cooled soups, bone broths (with soft, well-cooked rice, vegetables and protein sources like very soft tender chicken or fish) 

  • Oatmeal (cooled)

  • Well-cooked rice (cooled)

  • Mashed potatoes and/or sweet potatoes (sweet potatoes are more nutrient dense) (cooled)

  • Mashed butternut squash, other mashed squashes (even zucchini) (cooled)

  • Very cooked/soft/pureed vegetables (cooled)

  • Add grass-fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, or ghee to foods for healthy fats

  • Smoothies are a great way to get in all sort of nutrients

    • Add fruit, vegetables, coconut oil and/or other healthy fats, other as desired, include probiotics, vitamins, pain medications, etc.

    • If feeling adventurous, add some baby kale or spinach to the smoothies, it might turn them green, carrots (orange), or beets (red of course), etc., but really has no taste to it otherwise, and it’s a great way to get in some vegetables and extra nutrients (and fun to drink different colored smoothies!).

  • Protein ideas

    • Add a favorite protein powder to smoothies, banana ice cream, avocado pudding, yogurt, etc.

    • Use an unflavored protein powder to add to mashed potatoes and oatmeal (and other foods) for example

    • Coconut or Greek yogurt (full fat versions)

    • Canned tuna or salmon

    • Soft, cooked and cooled fish

    • Scrambled eggs

    • Mashed beans, bean dips, hummus and lentils

*Dairy is a common allergen, is often loaded with hormones and antibiotics, and can cause leaky gut and inflammation.

For reference, examples of non-dairy foods high in calcium that can be eaten after surgery and as the area begins to heal include yogurt, mashed canned salmon, mashed beans and lentils, spinach, kale, collard greens, and broccoli juiced/added to smoothies, and enriched rice, almond, hemp and coconut milks.