Immune Boosting Foods
The immune system is the body’s defence against infections and diseases. It consists of various cells, tissues and organs working together to fight harmful invaders such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. A healthy immune system can prevent illnesses and help you recover faster.
One of the factors that affect the immune system is nutrition. A balanced diet that provides adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can support the immune system and enhance its functions. Some foods are especially rich in nutrients that boost immunity and may help protect you from colds, flu and other infections.
Here are 15 foods that can boost your immune system:
1. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits are among the best sources of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps the immune system produce more white blood cells, which are essential for fighting infections. Vitamin C also supports the skin barrier and helps wounds heal faster.
Some of the common citrus fruits that are high in vitamin C are:
Since the body cannot produce vitamin C, consuming it regularly through food is essential. The recommended daily vitamin C intake for most adults is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men.
2. Red Bell Peppers
Red bell peppers are another excellent source of vitamin C, providing almost three times as much as a Florida orange (127 mg vs 45 mg per 100 g). They also contain beta-carotene, a plant pigment that the body converts into vitamin A, essential for eye and skin health.
Red bell peppers can be eaten raw and cooked. They add colour, flavour and crunch to salads, stir-fries, soups and sandwiches.
Broccoli is a superfood packed with vitamins and minerals supporting the immune system. It contains vitamins A, C and E, fibre and antioxidants. Broccoli also has sulforaphane, which may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
To get the most benefits from broccoli, eating it raw or lightly cooked is best. Steaming or microwaving are the best methods to preserve nutrients.
Garlic is a popular ingredient that adds flavour and aroma to many dishes. It also has medicinal properties that have been recognized since ancient times. Garlic contains allicin, a sulphur compound that may have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects.
Garlic may also help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and prevent hardening of the arteries. You can use garlic to season meats, vegetables, soups and sauces.
Ginger is a spicy root used for centuries in Asian and Indian cuisines and medicines. Ginger contains gingerol, a compound that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Ginger may help reduce inflammation, pain, nausea and indigestion.
Ginger can be consumed fresh, dried, powdered or as a tea. You can add ginger to baked goods, smoothies, curries and stir-fries.
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, iron, folate and antioxidants. Spinach may help boost the production and function of immune cells. Spinach also contains quercetin, a flavonoid that may have antiviral and anti-allergic effects.
Spinach can be eaten raw or cooked. You can add spinach to salads, sandwiches, soups, pasta dishes and casseroles.
Yogurt is a fermented dairy product that contains probiotics and live microorganisms that can benefit the gut microbiome and the immune system. Probiotics may help modulate the immune response and prevent or treat infections such as diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and vaginal infections.
Yogurt also provides protein, calcium and vitamin D, essential for bone health. You can eat yogurt plain or with fruits, nuts, granola or honey.
Almonds are nuts that are high in vitamin E. This fat-soluble antioxidant protects the cell membranes from oxidative damage. Vitamin E also plays a role in the immune system by enhancing the activity of natural killer cells, which eliminate infected or cancerous cells.
Almonds also provide healthy fats, protein, magnesium and fibre. You can snack on almonds or use them to make almond butter, milk or flour.
9. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are another excellent source of vitamin E and selenium. This mineral may have antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects. Selenium may also help regulate the immune system and prevent excessive or abnormal responses.
Sunflower seeds also contain healthy fats, protein, fibre and other nutrients. You can eat sunflower seeds raw or roasted or add them to salads, cereals, baked goods or trail mixes.
Turmeric is a yellow spice widely used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Turmeric contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immunomodulatory effects. Curcumin may help reduce inflammation in conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.
Turmeric can be used to flavour rice, lentils, curries and soups. You can also make turmeric tea or golden milk by adding turmeric, ginger, honey and milk to hot water.
11. Green Tea
Green tea is a popular beverage that has many health benefits. Green tea contains catechins, a polyphenol type with antioxidant and antiviral properties. Catechins may help prevent or treat infections such as influenza, herpes and hepatitis C.
Green tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that may enhance the production and function of immune cells. You can drink green tea hot or cold, with or without sweeteners.
Papaya is a tropical fruit high in vitamin C, providing 224% of the daily value per cup (140 g). Papaya also contains papain, an enzyme that can help digest proteins and reduce inflammation.
Papaya also provides vitamin A, folate, potassium and antioxidants. You can eat papaya fresh or dried or add it to smoothies, salads or desserts.
Kiwi is another fruit rich in vitamin C, providing 273% of the daily value per cup (180 g). Kiwi also contains other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can support the immune system. Kiwi may help reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, especially in children and older adults.
Kiwi can be eaten with or without the skin or added to fruit salads, yogurt or smoothies.
Poultry such as chicken and turkey are good protein sources essential for the growth and repair of immune cells. Poultry also provides zinc, a mineral involved in the development and function of immune cells. Zinc deficiency can impair the immune system and increase the risk of infections.
Poultry also contains tryptophan, an amino acid that can help produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and sleep. You can cook poultry in various ways, such as roasting, grilling or baking.
Shellfish such as oysters, clams, mussels and crabs are rich in zinc, which, as mentioned above, is essential for the immune system. Shellfish also provide protein, omega-3 fats and other nutrients that can benefit your health.
However, shellfish can also contain allergens or contaminants that can cause adverse reactions in some people. Pregnant women and people with shellfish allergies or compromised immune systems should avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish.
Eating various nutritious foods can help boost your immune system and protect you from infections and diseases. Some foods are especially rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support immunity and may help prevent or shorten illnesses.
Some of the foods that can boost your immune system are citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, garlic, ginger, spinach, yogurt, almonds, sunflower seeds, turmeric, green tea, papaya, kiwi, poultry and shellfish.
However, food alone cannot keep you healthy. You must also maintain other aspects of your lifestyle, such as physical activity, stress management, sleep quality and hygiene.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article and learned something new about the foods that can boost your immune system. At Movement District, nutrition is a critical component of fitness and wellness. We offer personalized meal plans and recipes that suit your goals and preferences. Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, improve your performance, or just feel healthier, we have the right plan.