Going grocery shopping and choosing the right foods to eat were solely based on how they tasted. Since the coronavirus pandemic, things have changed. Now more than ever, people are looking to fill their grocery carts with immune-boosting foods that are rich in vitamins, anitoxidants, and other nutrients important to keep the body running at optimal levels. Making sure you eat foods that are high in essential nutrients will help keep your immune system, gut, and other systems in your body in top shape – so you can fight off the cold, flu, or any other viruses with little to no trouble!
However, it takes more than just immune-boosting foods to maintain a functioning immune system – it's all about balance. Don't worry, not only are we going to give you a list of 12 foods that boost the immune system, but we'll be giving you additional tips on how to actually maintain it so you can fight the common cold and flu with ease!
12 Foods That Boost Immune System
Many people try to prevent common colds or the flu by taking multivitamins or other dietary supplements or even by eating endless amounts of oranges, all to get enough vitamin C. Vitamin C is known to help our immune system, but there are other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help keep us healthy like...
- Beta-Carotene: Has anti-inflammatory effects and boosts immune function by increasing disease-fighting cells in the body.
- Vitamin E: Similar to vitamin C, this antioxidant helps support the body's natural immune response by destroying free radicals (toxic compounds that can impact cells negatively).
- Vitamin D: Produces pro-inflammatory compounds in the body that can help reduce the risk of viral infections like respiratory tract infections.
- Zinc: Helps boost white blood cells which are known for fighting infections.
These nutrients (with a few others) help our bodies maintain a healthy immune system. So the foods listed below have one or more of these essential nutrients to help keep your body in tip-top shape!
This is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put in your fridge! It has so many nutrients like beta-carotene, zinc, iron, magnesium, vitamins A, C, and E. It also has an array of B vitamins. These vitamins work together to keep your immune system functioning properly.
Incorporate it into your meals by steaming it with other veggies, adding it to your salad, making a casserole with it, or making a broccoli and cheddar soup!
Although technically not a food, you should consider adding bone broth into your diet - it's a nutrient powerhouse! The nutrient content depends on the type of animal bone broth it is, but generally, they contain important minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. On top of that bone marrow is a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin A, k2, zinc, selenium, manganese, and iron. Bone broth has other benefits like helping improve your gut health, protecting your joints, increasing collagen levels, and even improving sleep. See, this is why it's always advised to eat chicken soup, or any broth-based soup when you're sick!
However, you don't only have to drink bone broth when you're sick. You can use it in your pasta and casseroles, cook grains with it, or even just enjoy a warm cup before bed!
Vitamin C is the vitamin everyone goes to after getting a cold. But why? Well, that's because it's known to help boost your immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells. Unfortunately, our bodies do not produce or store it. This is why it's often recommended to eat foods rich in vitamin C daily.
Luckily, many popular citrus fruits are rich in this vitamin, they include:
- Oranges - A medium-sized orange has 70 mg of vitamin c
- Clementines - One clementine contains 36 mg
- Tangerines - One medium tangerine contains 23.5 mg
- Lemons - Juice of one lemon contains 30.7 mg
- Limes - Juice of one lime contains 13 mg
- Grapefruit - Half of a grapefruit contains 44 mg
For adults, the recommended daily intake is between 65-90mg. So you can easily meet your vitamin C needs by eating one or two of these citrus fruits, no need for supplements!
Fermented foods are healthy foods and beverages that have undergone a fermentation process that provides controlled microbial growth. The process requires probiotics (yeast and live bacteria) to feed on sugar and starch resulting in lactic acids. Essentially these foods contain probiotics (and other nutrients) that help improve gut health, and can even reduce the severity of cold symptoms!
- Yogurt: Plain yogurt with live and active cultures is packed with nearly every nutrient that your body needs! It has calcium, vitamin B12, and other B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and more. If you want to reap the benefits of it then choose plain Greek yogurt rather than the sweetened ones that are packed with sugar. Plus you can always add your own mix-ins like honey, fruit, nuts, etc.
- Kimchi: Kimchi is fermented vegetables, usually cabbage and radish mixed together with spices and seasonings. It's super tasty and rich in iron, vitamin B2, and D which are all linked to aiding the immune system, decreasing insulin resistance, and more!
- Miso: Not only a fermented food but miso also contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein! On top of that, it's a good source of fiber, vitamin K, manganese, and copper. Tired of chicken soup? Have some miso soup in the wintertime to boost your body's immune response!
Other fermented foods you can add to your diet are kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, and natto.
Garlic is widely loved for not only the taste it brings out in food but also its immune-boosting properties. It gets most of its health benefits from the sulfur compounds that form when garlic is chopped or crushed. Allicin is the main sulfur compound that seems to give garlic its immune-boosting effects. Even better there's research to prove the positive effects it has on immune health...
Researches conducted a study to discover the effects of garlic on immune health. They had participants take a garlic extract for 90 days, and a group that didn't. The group that incorporated garlic into their diet experienced reduced cold/flu symptoms.
If you don't already have this in your kitchen, then make sure to grab a few garlic bulbs next time you go to the store! They are super easy to incorporate into your everyday meals, just add a bit of minced garlic to your vegetables, meats, etc.
Just like vitamin C, ginger is another food that people turn to after getting sick. That is because it has antioxidant compounds that have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Ginger can help reduce nausea, sore throats, and other inflammatory illnesses.
Ginger is an acquired taste, not many people enjoy it. One quick way to get some ginger into your diet is by purchasing a ginger shot or juicing it yourself. You can also grate fresh ginger into some hot water to make some tea or add some to a vegetable stir fry!
Green and Red bell peppers
Oranges aren't the best source of vitamin C... an ounce of red bell peppers contains twice as much vitamin C than an ounce of oranges 🤯Green bell peppers have slightly less vitamin C than red peppers, but at 120 mg per cup, that's still over your recommended daily intake. Aside from that, they are also a rich source of beta carotene which keeps your eyes and skin healthy.
We definitely suggest adding these to your grocery list! You can incorporate bell peppers in so many recipes like a veggie-filled omelet, a burrito bowl topped with grilled vegetables, stuffed bell peppers, and more.
Mushrooms are high in selenium and B vitamins (riboflavin and niacin) which are necessary minerals and vitamins to keep your immune system working. Shiitake mushrooms are even better because they also contain Vitamin D, 7 of the 8 essential amino acids, and they contain polysaccharides. So not only are they good for you, but the polysaccharides in them are known to boost immune function.
Mushrooms, like shiitake, have a savory and rich, earthy taste. A great way to incorporate them into your foods is by grilling them with other veggies, adding them into your morning eggs or omelets, or mixing in salads.
Nuts like almonds and sunflower seeds are packed with healthy fats and vitamins. Specifically, vitamin E – which is key to a healthy immune system. It acts as an antioxidant and wards off cellular damage and invasive bacteria.
Just a half-cup serving of almonds provides your body with the daily recommended amount of vitamin E! Plus almonds have a lot of protein, making it the perfect snack to munch on!
During flu season, or when you develop a cold, what's the first thing you make or buy? Chicken noodle soup! It's the perfect meal when one is sick, it's warm and packed with foods that our bodies need like chicken.
Poultry (chicken or turkey) is high in vitamin B-6, which is responsible for chemical reactions that happen in the body and for the formation of new red blood cells. The broth or stock used in chicken noodle soup contains nutrients that are helpful to your gut and immunity! Combine that with some carrots and celery, and you have a delicious, immune-boosting chicken noodle soup!
This superfood is a fridge must-have! This leafy green is packed with vitamin A, C, fiber, magnesium, and iron. The antioxidants and beta carotene found in spinach can help boost immune function and provide the body with nutrients for cell division and DNA repair.
To get the most out of your spinach, eat it raw or cook it as little as possible so that it retains the nutrients. Incorporate raw spinach into your diet by adding it to smoothies or adding it into your salad mix. When it is lightly cooked it's a great addition to eggs, pasta, grilled vegetables, or dips.
This one's technically a spice, but you should definitely add it to your foods and drinks if you want to boost your body's immune response! Turmeric contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound known as curcumin. Curcumin is linked to activating the production of T-cells – the main cells that are putting up a fight for your health!
That's not all... Here are a few other foods to add to your grocery list that also contain essential immune-boosting nutrients: elderberries, blueberries, kiwis, watermelon, papaya, sweet potatoes, and black and green tea.
What else can you do to support your immune system?
Eating a bunch of healthy superfoods isn't going to immediately prevent or fight off diseases, it's all about balance. Here are other ways to improve your immune system and take care of your overall health and wellness:
- Exercise regularly: Working out isn't only for achieving fitness goals! It increases your energy, helps decrease stress levels, improves mental health symptoms, and overall, keeps your body functioning at top levels! Prioritize a nutrient-dense diet, and remember to move your body.
- Manage stress levels: We know it's easier said than done, but seriously try to manage your stress levels! Stress increases the hormone cortisol, and consistently high cortisol levels can lead to adverse effects, including increased abdominal fat! But stress also reduces the body's ability to fight off antigens. So, practice self-care to keep your stress levels balanced and to prevent from suppressing the effectiveness of the immune system.
- Get enough sleep: Try to get between 7-9 hours every night. At night, during the deep sleep cycle, is when your body is working hard to clean out waste from cells, regulate the production of hormones, and so much more. Getting enough good sleep is essential for a healthier you, so prioritize it!
- Supplement smartly: Don't rely on supplements, but having a super greens powder, a multivitamin, or another dietary supplement is a great way to boost your nutrient needs when you may need it the most.
In summary, eating just one of these foods consistently is not going to help you fight the flu or cold. Variety is key to a healthy diet! So, pick a few of your favorite immune-boosting foods and start adding them to your favorite recipes, or even better, create a new recipe! And don't forget to workout regularly and track your macros using the Fit With Iulia app 😉