This article takes you through the best 27 foods that boost the immune system to help strengthen it, kill viruses and bacteria, and fight off infections.
Foods That Boost the Immune System:
We all know that our immune system protects us from disease, but what many people don’t realize is that immune function declines with age and certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking or being over-or underweight.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your immune system and keep it running at optimal performance levels – especially during the winter months when colds and flu are prevalent.
The key lies in eating the right foods—foods good for immunity that have been shown to protect the body from developing diseases and boosting immunity in those who already have conditions like allergies or autoimmune disorders.
An essential part of maintaining good health is strengthening your immune system by eating foods that are high in antioxidants and other immune-boosting nutrients.
There are certain super immunity foods you can eat to strengthen your immunity, slow the aging process, and keep your body strong against disease and illnesses. These may include foods that boost white blood cells in the body.
What Is the Immune System?
The immune system is the body’s primary safeguard against outside invaders. These are things that can make you sick, like bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
If you didn’t know, your body is constantly under attack by these deadly microorganisms. And to safely protect you against these invaders, the body has developed a super-advanced defense mechanism called the immune system to shield you from these unwanted infectious guests and keep you healthy.
However, it’s vital to understand that the immune system is not just one part but a combination of tissues, cells, and organs that join forces to protect you and keep you healthy.
The 27 Best Foods That Boost the Immune System:
If incorporated into your daily diet, these foods can strengthen your immune system, prevent diseases, and help heal existing conditions or relieve their symptoms.
However, keep in mind that consuming these foods alone won’t change your health for the better if other healthy practices are not in place.
For instance, you need to avoid the things that can weaken the immune system, such as chronic stress, sedentary lifestyle, nicotine, poor diet, alcohol, and sugar, to name but a few.
Strawberry is another great food for increasing immunity. It’s an incredible source of vitamin C and manganese, which boost your body’s ability to fight infection.
A cup of halved strawberries contains about 149 percent of your daily vitamin C requirements and 29 percent of your daily manganese requirement.
Berries like strawberries also contain anthocyanins and other flavonoids, which act as anti-inflammatory agents and keep dangerous chronic inflammation at bay.
In one study, the type of flavonoid in strawberries was effective in boosting the immune defense associated with the respiratory system.
According to the researchers, individuals who consumed blueberries had fewer common cold and upper respiratory tract infections than those who did not consume.
Another vital benefit—strawberries are also high in fiber, an essential nutrient for various functions, including weight loss, blood sugar regulation, and healthy digestion.
Raspberries are another great source of vitamin C and other antioxidants, which can benefit your health in several ways. The juice is also believed to help with urinary tract infections.
Raspberries are also rich in fiber, promoting healthy digestion and bowel movements. In addition, they’re low in calories, so you can snack on them without feeling guilty about having consumed too many calories.
Like strawberries, blueberries contain immune-boosting anthocyanin antioxidants. Anthocyanins are responsible for blueberries’ dark-blue color.
In studies, blueberries have been shown to reduce inflammation by inhibiting cytokines. Cytokines are protein compounds that promote cell signaling, including controlling immune system cells.
They also control the growth and function of blood cells and other cells responsible for the body’s immune function and inflammatory responses.
While papaya has long been used in folk medicine to treat digestive problems, most people consume it for its benefits to their immune systems.
Papaya is rich in various nutrients and vitamins, including manganese, potassium, folate, beta carotene, lutein, and choline. Two of these stand out when it comes to boosting your body’s natural defenses: vitamin C and vitamin A.
Papayas are also low in calories and high in fiber, making them an ideal option if you’re trying to lose weight. The combination of these nutrients can improve resistance to diseases as diverse as bacterial and viral infections, allergies, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.
Whether eaten fresh or in juice form, papaya can help keep your body strong during the cold-and-flu season or whenever you’re exposed to viruses and other disease-causing pathogens.
This enticing fruit is loaded with vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system.
A medium-sized kiwi without skin can offer up to 117 percent of your daily requirements. With a medium-sized orange containing 98 percent of your daily vitamin C requirements, kiwi is definitely a richer source of vitamin C.
Studies have shown that people who eat foods rich in vitamin C may have lower risks of developing respiratory infections.
Kiwi is also rich in vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant and immune booster that fights free radicals that may otherwise cause cell damage leading to disease formation.
Kiwi also contains other nutrients that can help boost your immune health, including zinc, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein, which have commonly been associated with increased eye health.
In addition to boosting your immunity, kiwi may also promote skin health, promote digestion, and improve heart health by lowering cholesterol levels and reducing oxidative stress within blood vessels.
For a quick snack, eat them right out of their skins or add them to your favorite smoothie.
Pineapple is a tropical fruit that offers numerous health benefits, including its positive impact on the immune system.
One key reason why pineapple is good for the immune system is its rich vitamin C content. Vitamin C plays a crucial role in supporting immune function by stimulating the production of white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting off infections and foreign pathogens in the body.
A single cup of pineapple provides more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, making it an excellent choice for bolstering immune health.
Furthermore, pineapple contains bromelain, a mixture of enzymes known for its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.
Bromelain has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and can help alleviate symptoms associated with conditions like sinusitis and respiratory infections.
Additionally, this enzyme has been linked to improved digestion, which indirectly supports the immune system by ensuring proper nutrient absorption and overall gut health.
The combination of vitamin C and bromelain in pineapple makes it a valuable addition to a healthy diet, providing a natural boost to the immune system and promoting overall well-being.
7. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits such as orange, grapefruit, lemon, tangerine, lime, and kumquat are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant, and a potent immune booster. Vitamin C strengthens the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells responsible for fighting disease-causing pathogens.
The compounds in citrus fruits may also help suppress cancer cells by preventing the formation of new cancer cells.
For instance, grapefruit contains certain flavonoids that can block the expression of specific cancer-causing genes.
8. Green Leafy Vegetables
Vitamin C is necessary for a strong immune system and helps fight against infection. Spicy mustard greens, collard greens, kale, spinach, bok choy, and other leafy green vegetables are all excellent sources of vitamin C. They are also high in fiber, minerals like potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, and other vitamins like vitamin k that promote essential body processes to ensure you are well protected.
9. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are non-starchy vegetables that contain glucosinolates, an element that fights cancer and helps boost the immune system.
Examples include kale, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprout, collard greens, and mustard greens.
10. Green onions
Not only do they taste great in salads, but green onions can also help boost your immune system.
Research has shown that their active ingredients quercetin and kaempferol have powerful antioxidant, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, which are extremely helpful when it comes to fighting off seasonal colds.
This tasty onion is also a great source of vitamins C and A—your body needs both of these vitamins in order to combat infections. Look for green onions that are firm with deep green leaves.
Leeks are a tasty, versatile member of the onion family. They’re one of nature’s richest sources of quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that boosts your immune system and has been shown to fight cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Plus, leeks are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as fiber. You can enjoy fresh chopped leeks fresh in soup or sautéed with other vegetables.
Mushrooms are loaded with vitamin D, B vitamins, selenium, and zinc. These micronutrients boost immunity by supporting T-cell production, which fights infections.
Plus, mushrooms are a good source of riboflavin (vitamin B2), folate, and potassium—all nutrients that help your body fight off colds and flu.
The easiest way to get mushrooms is in supplement form, as they don’t have a strong taste and can be added to just about anything (including smoothies). Plus, they’re easy on your wallet!
13. Hot peppers
Hot peppers such as cayenne and habanero contain high amounts of capsaicin and capsaicinoids, their major active ingredients.
It’s these chemical compounds that give peppers their heat.
Hot peppers are known to boost metabolism by increasing your body temperature and improving digestion. They are also full of antioxidants.
One study found that red hot pepper consumption led to a 33 percent decrease in oxidative stress in rats. Antioxidants play an important role in immune function since they act like scavengers on free radicals, which can damage cells and lead to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
Including more vegetables with antioxidant properties is key for good health. Additionally, chili peppers have been shown to improve circulation by dilating blood vessels.
Asparagus is great for boosting your immune system and preventing illness. It contains vitamin C and beta-carotene.
Vitamin C has been proven to increase white blood cell production, and when you’re facing a virus or infection, it’s a good idea to have as much of it in your body as possible.
Beta-carotene is also important for immunity; it helps fight off disease by providing nutrition to our cells while they are fighting an illness. This can be extremely helpful in preventing illness from developing into full-blown sicknesses.
Asparagus is also rich in vitamins A, E, zinc, and selenium, which both boost your body’s immune system when combined with a healthy diet.
Lastly, asparagus has high levels of glutathione, which your body uses to fight diseases such as cancer. Consider eating 3-4 servings of asparagus each week!
15. Yellow onion
Just like garlic, yellow onions are also high in sulfur, selenium, vitamin C, and zinc. Read More.
They are also high in quercetin, a flavonoid antioxidant that fights inflammation and contains anti-viral properties.
Other health benefits of onions include
- Cancer risk reduction
- Antibacterial properties
- Bone health
- Digestive health
- Histamine regulating effects
Garlic is another excellent immune-boosting ingredient. This is due to its high sulfur compound allicin, which helps the immune system fight germs.
Allicin is also a strong anti-inflammatory and can help against atherosclerosis and stroke. It may also lower high blood pressure and cholesterol. Read More.
Broccoli is one of your best sources for vitamins A and C—two super-antioxidants that help support a healthy immune system.
It’s also loaded with fiber, which helps fill you up, so you aren’t tempted to turn to high-calorie snacks or sugary sweets. Broccoli also contains sulforaphane, which helps slow the growth of cancer.
Nuts are generally high in iron, zinc, and protein, all of which are needed for normal body processes, including boosting the immune system. Read More.
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to boost immunity and reduce inflammation.
One study found that people who ate more than six ounces of walnuts per week—that’s about one small handful—had lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker linked with heart disease risk, compared to those who didn’t eat nuts. Other research has linked eating walnuts with improved gut health and a reduced risk of cancer.
You can enjoy walnuts alone or add them to your favorite smoothie recipe for a boost in flavor and immune system support.
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachios contain vitamin E, an important antioxidant that promotes immune functions. It does this by neutralizing and fighting off free radicals that can otherwise cause cell damage.
Research shows that almonds can help reduce respiratory infections and control asthma. The monounsaturated fats present in nuts like almonds may actually help to thin mucus, thereby improving breathing.
In addition, monounsaturated fats promote a healthy lipid profile—another factor associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Almonds are also rich in vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage.
20. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts contain a significant amount of selenium, a trace mineral that keeps our immune system in shape. Selenium helps create glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme responsible for neutralizing free radicals and other toxins.
Brazil nuts also contain monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to improve immunity. The recommended intake is one or two whole nuts (6–12 grams of fat) per day.
It’s always a good idea to eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible, but if you’re looking for natural ways to boost your immune system, then you should consider including seeds in your diet.
Seeds have been shown to have medicinal properties that make them effective in fighting against illness and strengthening our bodies. The best seed-based foods to consume include:
21. Chia seeds
But perhaps their most significant contribution is that they help boost your immune system by increasing levels of antioxidants in your blood. And they do it without any calories.
Chia seeds are also rich in calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and thiamine. According to studies, daily intake of chia seeds can boost the immune system through their ability to improve digestion, regulate blood sugar and cholesterol, and generally boost body metabolism.
All you need to do is mix two tablespoons of chia seeds with 1 cup water; wait 20 minutes; stir again; refrigerate overnight; then top off your morning yogurt or oatmeal with it.
22. Pumpkin seeds
A handful of pumpkin seeds are a great addition to any diet, especially if you’re looking to boost your immune system.
Pumpkin seeds contain various minerals and vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, as well as phytochemicals that act as antioxidants.
Antioxidants are responsible for neutralizing free radicals in our bodies, preventing damage from occurring in healthy cells, and halting other disease-causing agents before they can cause damage.
23. Sesame seeds
Sesame seeds are widely known for tahini, a paste made from grounded sesame seeds. But more than that, they are a great immune booster through their ability to lower heart-related conditions, boost digestion, and improve overall health.
Flaxseeds are another tremendous immune-boosting seed. They are high in valuable immune-boosting nutrients such as fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, essential vitamins, and minerals.
They are best known for their ability to improve cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and protect the body against chronic diseases.
Some great ways to incorporate seeds into your diet include using them in smoothies, salad dressings, baked goods, and puddings.
Spices and herbs:
Gingerol, the main compound in ginger, is responsible for the positive effects ginger has on the immune system. It has been shown to improve the immune system by facilitating homeostasis in the body.
It also helps the body fight off free radicals that can cause cell damage, leading to cell mutations and disease formation.
Gingerol is also helpful in alleviating common cold symptoms and preventing viruses that cause respiratory tract infections from attacking respiratory tract cells.
In addition, gingerol helps decrease mucus production, increase body temperature, and flush toxins from the body. Read More.
Turmeric is commonly known as a key ingredient in curry. However, it also has been used for coloring, cosmetic, and medicinal purposes.
Turmeric is probably one of my favorite ingredients to add to anything because it’s got powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
If you suffer from any kind of inflammation in your body, you can benefit from adding some turmeric into your life.
In fact, there are a number of studies that show how curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) helps alleviate chronic pain, arthritis, eczema, and inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Curcumin may also help prevent cancer, heart disease, improve type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Read More.
There’s a reason chamomile has a reputation for soothing frayed nerves and calming upset stomachs: When consumed, it has an anti-inflammatory effect on humans.
In fact, chamomile essential oil has been shown to effectively reduce inflammation of skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. Adding a 1/2 teaspoon to your bath or drinking chamomile tea can enhance the benefits.
Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against infections and diseases, which means keeping it healthy and strong is one of the most important things you can do to prevent illness.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to let your immune system down, from stress and lack of sleep to poor diet choices and environmental factors.
While you can’t completely control your surroundings, you can make sure you’re getting plenty of foods that boost the immune system, so your body has all the tools it needs to fight off potential dangers. The superfoods for the immune system listed in this article are a great place to begin.
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