It’s Officially Cold and Flu Season, So Here Are 15 Foods to Give Your Immune System a Much-Needed Boost
Now that we’re in the thick of cold and flu season—not to mention doing our best to protect ourselves from coronavirus—many of us are doing absolutely everything we can to keep our immune systems strong. One great place to start? Food.
Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic!emphasizes what an important role food plays in our immune health. “Diet is critical to optimal immunity,” he says. “Especially increasing foods that contain zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D can be beneficial to the immune system.”
When you choose foods that are higher in vitamins and minerals, you’re getting more antioxidants and healthy compounds into your body, and that helps you fight off potential illness, or at least lessen the severity. Take zinc, for instance; one of the best-known immunity boosters that can be found in OTC medicines like Zicam (for alleviating cold symptoms). “Without adequate levels of zinc, the key hormone regulating immunity, called thymulin, simply does not work,” says Teitelbaum. Zinc is usually found in high-protein foods like oysters, chicken and beef.
“By eating a diet higher in fruits and vegetables, increasing exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight, you can improve the overall function of your body, including your immune system,” says Sandy Younan Brikho, MDA, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and weight loss expert. “Research shows that consuming foods that are anti-inflammatory, containing antioxidants, and protein-rich could aid in improving immune function over time.”
Here, we’ve included a list of 15 foods that boost the immune system so you can incorporate them into your diet on your quest for better health.
Foods that boost the immune system
Orange juice and citrus fruits
There’s a reason why orange juice is often recommended as the first line of defense in beating a cold. Oranges and other citrus fruits like grapefruits and tangerines are packed with Vitamin C, a natural immune booster.
Almonds are rich in vitamin E, another powerful immune booster. And it doesn’t take more than a small handful of almonds to get your recommended daily amount.
The rich orange color of sweet potatoes indicates that sweet potatoes are high in beta carotene, which can increase your body’s production of white blood cells, says Olivia Audrey, ND, board-certified doctor of natural medicine.
Deep red and richly flavored, cherries of any type are packed with healthy antioxidants to keep you feeling healthy.
For a healthy and protective dose of zinc on the go, grab a handful of pumpkin seeds and enjoy a simple—and immune boosting—snack.
Used for centuries as a natural remedy for diseases of all types, garlic is a must-add to your diet during cold and flu season. One study found that use of a garlic supplement dramatically reduced the prevalence of colds among participants.
This versatile fruit is packed with antioxidants. You can use the seeds in a salad, or simply drink the juice for a similar effect.
Among the healthiest of the leafy greens, kale contains a host of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It’s even said to be protective against chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes.
Whether you blend it into a smoothie, mix it with eggs for breakfast or add a few sprigs to a sandwich, versatile spinach has tons of vitamin A for immune-boosting power.
Ginger – Ginger contains powerful phytochemicals that reduce inflammation in your body, says Audrey, and can be added to food or drinks or taken as a supplement.
They’re not just for Thanksgiving dinner! Audrey says, “Cranberries are high in phytonutrients that can help stave off infection and contain lots of vitamin C.”
Elderberries are a favorite immune-boosting food, since they contain antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation, says Brikho.
Protein-rich foods like beef, poultry, and eggs can help with T-cell function that kills infected host cells, says Brikho.
Made by simmering the bones and connective tissues of animals, bone broth is basically the gold standard of health-inducing foods. Among a host of other benefits, it’s said to increase immunity as well.