17 Foods that Boost Your Immune System

A healthy immune system is a critical part of the body. When the immune system is healthy, it helps to ward off any pathogens that enter the body.

This includes viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Unfortunately, many people suffer from weak immune systems. 

When the immune system is weak, there is a higher risk of infection and other diseases. Developing influenza or catching a common cold becomes a more significant concern. When an infection develops, it may also take the body longer to effectively recover from the condition. 

There are ways to boost the immune system. People should start by looking at their dietary habits. Some foods can suppress immune function.

Others, however, may help to boost immune function instead. We share 17 of the best immune-boosting foods that people should include in their diet. 

1) Citrus Fruits

There are many options when it comes to citrus foods. These foods contain vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant. It is known that vitamin C helps to increase the production of white blood cells. These cells are critical when it comes to fighting against an infection. 

Many citrus fruits are also rich in magnesium, copper, potassium, and phosphorus. A person can also obtain a good dose of vitamin Bs when they eat citrus fruits1. 

There are many types of citrus fruits that people can eat. Some examples include:

  • Oranges

  • Limes

  • Grapefruit

  • Lemons

  • Pomelos

  • Tangelo

  • Mandarins
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2) Broccoli

Broccoli is often called a superfood. It is a vegetable that is filled with antioxidant compounds and many of the nutrients the body needs.

Broccoli is rich in fiber, a crucial compound to help support digestive function. The antioxidants in broccoli help to fight against free radicals in the body. This reduces oxidative stress. 

Broccoli also contains high amounts of vitamin E, C, and A. These are three important vitamins that act as potent antioxidants. They also help with the regulation of the immune system. Steaming broccoli is the best option when it comes to preserving its nutritional content2. 

3) Peppers

Many people think oranges are the best food to eat if they want to increase their intake of vitamin C. Sure, oranges contain vitamin C, but red peppers actually contain more. In fact, the vitamin C content in red bell peppers is about three times higher than that in oranges. Apart from vitamin C, peppers are also rich in beta carotene. 

Beta carotene helps to aid in keeping both your skin and your eyes healthy. The vitamin C content ensures enough white blood cells are created in response to pathogens. 

4) Garlic

Garlic is one of the most popular ingredients used in food. It is not only popular in Italian pasta sauces, but many other dishes too. This food contains quite a large number of health properties. There are even compounds in garlic that can effectively fight off an infection. 

Allicin is the main component of garlic that helps to boost the immune system. This is a type of sulfur-containing chemical found in garlic. It helps to make the immune system stronger against viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms that cause infection. 

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5) Ginger

Ginger is another excellent food that people should consider if they want to boost their immune function. It is often added to formulas that focus on helping people recover from a common cold. This is particularly due to the immune-boosting compounds found in ginger. 

Ginger contains gingerol. This chemical helps to make the immune system stronger. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Studies report that gingerol also helps to reduce chronic pain symptoms3.  

6) Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice that is often added to food. It is one of the main ingredients in curries. Curcumin is an active ingredient in turmeric. This chemical has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

It helps to protect against inflammation. The antioxidant activity of turmeric also reduces oxidative stress and free radical damage in the body. 

There is some evidence that curcumin also has antiviral properties4. This means it is effective at helping the body fight against viral infections. The curcumin may also help to fight against fungal and bacterial infections. 

7) Spinach

Spinach is another superfood that contains a wide range of minerals, vitamins, and other plant-based compounds. The vegetable is known to be exceptionally rich in vitamin C. This helps the body produce more white blood cells in response to an infection. 

Spinach also contains beta carotene, as well as several antioxidants. These further helps to strengthen the immune system. It also removes the free radicals that may suppress immune function.

When using spinach, it is important not to cook it too much. This may cause the vegetable to lose some of its nutritional content. Mixing spinach with Brussels sprouts is a great idea to further increase the immune-boosting properties. 

8) Greek Yogurt

Probiotics are often advised for strengthening the immune system. When there is an imbalance in the good bacteria that lives in a person’s gut, their immune system can suffer. Greek yogurt is considered an excellent source of probiotics. 

Additionally, Greek yogurt also contains vitamin D. This vitamin has a critical role to play in the regulation of a person’s immune system. It may help to boost the body’s defenses against infections and pathogens. Vitamin D is also vital for keeping the bones healthy and strong and assists with the absorption of calcium. 

9) Almonds

Almonds are also an excellent option when it comes to looking at foods that boost the immune system. Almonds contain a lot of vitamin E. This is another nutrient with potent antioxidant properties. These nuts are also high in healthy fats. The combination of vitamin E and healthy fats help to increase the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamin. 

Half a cup of almonds provides a 100% dose of the recommended daily intake for vitamin E. 

10) Green Tea

Green tea might be considered a drink over food, but it is still a worthy option to add to our list. This is one of the world’s most popular drinks. There are many health benefits associated with drinking green tea regularly. 

The tea is filled with flavonoids. This is a powerful antioxidant that effectively reduces the free radicals in the body. Green tea also contains epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, which is also an antioxidant. Studies have shown evidence that EGCG can effectively improve immune function5. 

11) Mushrooms

The main compound that is of interest when looking at how mushrooms help to boost the immune system would be vitamin D. This is a vitamin that many people do not get enough of.

Vitamin D is critical for maintaining healthy bones. There are, however, many other functions in the body that relies on healthy levels of vitamin D

One of these would be the immune system. Mushrooms are rich in vitamin D. This means regularly consuming mushrooms is an excellent way for a person to get enough of this immune-boosting vitamin. There are different mushrooms that a person can eat. Shitake mushrooms are exceptionally high in vitamin D. 

12) Sweet Potato

Many people overlook the many nutrients that are found in sweet potato. This is a food that can be cooked in many ways. It can be used to make both sweet and savory dishes. Sweet potato is high in vitamin C. This is why the vegetable is often advised as food for improving the immune system. 

The vegetable also contains other nutrients. This includes beta carotene, potassium, manganese, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and vitamin E. The beta carotene is converted into vitamin A in the human body. Apart from vitamin C, several other nutrients also provide antioxidant functions to the body.

13) Papaya

Papaya is another fruit that contains more vitamin C than oranges. This is often considered a summer fruit. Medium papaya contains more than two times the amount of vitamin C that a person is generally advised to consume each day. 

There are digestive enzymes in papaya that produces anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Inflammation is known to be a contributing factor to a weak immune system.

Thus, by reducing inflammation, the fruit further contributes to strengthening a person’s immune system. There are other important nutrients found in papaya fruit too. These include folate, potassium, and magnesium. 

14) Poultry

Poultry meat is also important for people who want to boost their immune function. This category primarily includes chicken and turkey meat. Poultry is often added to soups when a person is sick. This is because there is evidence that supports the healing properties of this meat type. 

Poultry is a meat variety that is high in vitamin B6. This particular vitamin plays a critical role in the development of red blood cells. It also helps existing red blood cells stay healthy.

Many people choose to make broth from chicken bones. This can also help to improve immune function.  

15) Sunflower Seeds

Seeds are often advised to be part of a healthy diet. Sunflower seeds, in particular, contain compounds and nutrients that are critical for a good immune system. These seeds are also rich in vitamin B6. This vitamin helps to regulate red blood cell production. 

Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E. This nutrient acts as an antioxidant in the body. It has also been shown to play a role in the regulation of the immune system’s health and responses. Apart from these nutrients, a person can also obtain phosphorous and magnesium by eating sunflower seeds. 

16) Berries

Berries are not only delicious, but they are also nutritious. A large variety of berries exist – and many of these contain the essential nutrients that we need to offer our bodies every day.

Some berry types are high in fiber. The fiber content helps to improve digestive function. A healthy digestive system ensures nutrients can be effectively absorbed from food.

Golden berries, for example, contain multiple polyphenols which block the release of certain inflammatory immune markers.

In turn, eating more immune-boosting foods ensure a person can take full advantage of the nutrients in these fruits and vegetables

17) Omega-3 Rich Foods

Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids are also essential when it comes to boosting the immune system. Shellfish is an excellent example. In addition to these fatty acids, shellfish also contain zinc – a critical element that helps to strengthen the immune system. 

Fatty fish varieties are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. This includes salmon, tuna, and herring. Many seeds contain high amounts of these fatty acids. Examples include chia seeds and flaxseeds.

A person may also opt to eat more nuts that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts are great sources of these fatty acids. Another option would be to add more olive oil to food. 

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Other Ways To Boost Immune System

We shared 17 of the most important foods that should be included in a diet to help keep the immune system healthy. This includes everything from cruciferous vegetables to fermented foods and more.

By strengthening the immune system, the risk of catching a common cold, and many other diseases decline. Immune health also helps to fight off cancer and some of the other more serious conditions. 

Diet is not the only factor that contributes to a healthy immune system function.

There are other ways to reduce the risk of respiratory infections, cold symptoms, and even heart disease. Let’s take a look at a few additional options for improving immune health:

  • Sleep Better: Poor sleep leads to sleep deficiency. This is a serious concern and causes many adverse effects on the body. If a person does not sleep enough, their immune system also suffers. Improving sleep can help to keep the immune system healthy. It also reduces the risk of obesity, anxiety, heart disease, and more. 

  • Avoid Trans Fats: While adding fruits and vegetables to a diet is great for improving the health of an immune system cell, eating trans fats and fast foods can suppress the immune system. Avoid eating processed foods and fast foods that are filled with trans fats. 

  • Exercise: Physical activity helps to keep the body fit and reduces the risk of weight gain. It also helps in the regulation of the immune system. Getting more exercise is a great way to boost the function of the immune system.

  • Lose Weight: People who are obese generally have weaker immune systems. Obesity puts a person at risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. It also causes chronic low-grade inflammation. Losing weight reduces these risks and alleviates the low-grade inflammation. In turn, this helps to boost immune function too. 

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A weak immune system means the body cannot defend itself against infection and illnesses. There are many ways to boost the immune system and protect the body against disease. Including certain foods in a diet can help.

There are also additional methods, such as reducing stress and improving sleep, that can help. Consider all of the tips we shared in this post. This will help you improve your immune response against certain pathogens and increase white blood cells in the presence of infection. 

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  1. Journal of Zhejiang University. (2009) Effects of different cooking methods on health-promoting compounds of broccoli. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722699/
  2. Nutrition Journal. (2015) Zingiberaceae extracts for pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4436156/
  3.  BioMed Research International. (2014) A Review on Antibacterial, Antiviral, and Antifungal Activity of Curcumin. [online] Available at: https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/186864
  4. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. (2014) Regulation Of Innate Immune Recognition Of Viral Infection By Epigallocatechin Gallate. [online] Available at: https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(13)02780-2/fulltext

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