23 Healthy Foods that Boost the Immune System Naturally

Winter is here, and so is the season for colds and flu. One of the best ways to protect yourself from the flu is to boost your immune system with a healthy diet. Foods rich in antioxidants help fight free radicals, which are known to damage the immune system. These are some of the best foods that can boost your immune system and keep you fit and healthy.

Immune system booster foods

1. Almonds

Almonds are packed with healthy fats, proteins, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E. They are also a fantastic source of antioxidants. The antioxidants in almonds are mostly concentrated in their skin. According to a 2010 study from Italy, almond skins stimulate the immune response and thus contribute to an antiviral immune defense (1). Almonds also contain manganese and copper, which work with vitamin E to provide a boost to the immune system.

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2. Avocado

Avocados are nutritionally dense, and they contain over 20 different vitamins and minerals. They are an excellent source of vitamins B6, C, E, and K, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and potassium. They also contain lutein, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. The abundance of antioxidants in avocados helps prevent diseases and reduced the risk of cancer.

3. Blueberries

Although small in size, blueberries are a great food to boost immunity. Blueberries contain anthocyanin, a type of flavonoid that helps improve a person’s immune system.  According to a 2016 study from The University of Auckland, dietary flavonoids have immunomodulatory properties that help lower upper respiratory tract infections (2).

4. Broccoli

Broccoli has an impressive nutritional profile. It is rich in fiber, vitamins C, A, B6, and potassium. It is also packed with phytochemicals and antioxidants. The phytochemicals in broccoli, such as glucobrassicin, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, and Kaempferol, are excellent for the immune system. Broccoli is also rich in antioxidants like lutein and sulforaphane.

According to a 2007 study from The University of California – Berkeley, 3,3’-diindolylmethane, a compound found in broccoli, can increase the blood levels of cytokines – proteins that help regulate the cells of the immune system (3).

5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a delicious spice that offers many health benefits. It has potent antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties, which help boost the immune system and fight the pathogens that cause illness. Cinnamaldehyde, an active component of cinnamon, can help fight infection. Cinnamon bark oil is especially effective against fungi that cause respiratory tract infections (4). The antimicrobial properties of cinnamon also help to prevent tooth decay and fight bad breath.

6. Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits like sweet oranges, mandarins, limes, grapefruit, and lemons are excellent sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C is known for its immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties (5).

Citrus fruits also contain other nutrients like B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and copper, which are beneficial for health. Citrus fruits contain secondary metabolites like flavonoids, alkaloids, coumarins, limonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acids, which are good for your health (6).

7. Carrots

Carrots contain a compound called beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A supports the body’s mucous membrane, which lines the respiratory and intestinal tract, making it difficult for the bacteria to enter the bloodstream and cause infections.

Vitamin C in carrots increases the number of antibodies released during the immune response and stimulates the production of white blood cells that get rid of foreign bacteria and viruses. Studies show that carrot juice can increase plasma carotenoid concentrations, which helps to boost immunity (7).

8. Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a healthy vegetable that is rich in several antioxidants and fiber, which are beneficial for the immune system. It contains choline, which plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the cell membranes. It supports a healthy gastrointestinal barrier, which helps keep the bacteria confined to the gut (8). Glutathione, another antioxidant found in cauliflowers, also helps to fight infection.

9. Eggs

Eggs are a great way to boost your immune system. They are rich in proteins, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron, which are beneficial for the immune function. They also contain and selenium, which plays a vital role in the health of our immune system. Studies show that a deficiency in selenium can harm the immune cell function and may lead to a slower immune response (9).

10. Garlic

Garlic is often used for its medicinal properties. It contains several compounds that help in boosting the immune system (10). Allicin, a sulfur-containing compound in garlic, improves your ability to fight off colds and flu. Garlic also has antiviral and antimicrobial properties that help fight bacterial and viral infections. Garlic boosts the production of virus-fighting T-cells, which is essential because viruses cause most colds. Stress can often compromise our immune system. Garlic can affect your adrenal gland’s response to stress and thus reduce the production of stress hormones.

11. Ginger

Ginger has antiviral and antibacterial properties, which provide it with immune-boosting benefits.  It contains antihistamine properties that protect you from allergies. It is also a natural decongestant that helps to ward off cough and cold. Ginger also contains a phenolic compound called gingerol, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that may be responsible for relaxing blood vessels. According to a 2012 study, ginger is effective against several drug-resistant microbial diseases (11).

12. Green tea

Green tea contains polyphenol compounds, also known as flavanols or catechins. These include epicatechin, -epigallocatechin, -epicatechin-3-gallate, and -epigallocatechin-3-gallate. Green tea gets its immune-boosting from these flavonols. According to a study by the Oregon State University, the beneficial compounds found in green tea have the power to increase the number of regulatory T cells that play a vital role in immune function and the suppression of autoimmune diseases (12).

13. Kale

Kale is a dark green leafy vegetable that is known for its numerous health benefits. It is rich in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that helps to boost the immune system and protects against chronic diseases. Kale is also rich in vitamin K, C, and iron and zinc.

14. Kiwi

Kiwis are delicious fruits that are packed nutrients like vitamin C, K, E, folate, and potassium. They also contain antioxidants and fiber. Vitamin C boosts white blood cells that fight infection and ward off diseases. According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, eating kiwi can reduce the severity of cold or flu-like illness in older adults and children (13).

15. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are immune powerhouses. They strengthen the immune system when it’s too weak and downregulate it when it’s too active. Mushrooms are a significant source of zinc, which helps to boost immunity. People who are deficient in zinc have fewer white blood cells, and this can lead to a reduced immune response. According to a 2015 study from the University of Florida, people who ate shitake mushrooms for four weeks had better-functioning gamma delta T-cells and reductions in inflammatory proteins (14).

16. Oysters

Oysters are rich in zinc and selenium, nutrients that help boost immunity. Zinc strengthens the immune response by assisting white blood cells in reproducing rapidly. White blood cells are the primary cells of our immune system, and they help destroy disease-causing organisms. They also assist the immune system with tasks like healing wounds. Selenium is a potent antioxidant and functions to protect your body from the adverse effects of free radicals.

17. Papaya

This tropical fruit is rich in vitamins A, B, C, and K and is known for its immunity-boosting powers. A single papaya can give you 224% of your daily requirement of vitamin C. Papayas contain papain and other enzymes that have anti-inflammatory properties. Papayas also contain B vitamins, folate, and potassium, all of which are beneficial for health.

18. Poultry

Poultry like turkey and chicken are rich in several nutrients, which highly beneficial. They are both rich in vitamin B6, which plays an essential role in the formation of red blood cells. They also contain the trace mineral selenium, which helps in strengthening the immune system. Chicken soup is a popular home remedy for relief from cold, flu, and other respiratory problems. It helps to relieve nasal congestion and coats the respiratory lining to prevent infection by microbes.

19. Red bell peppers

Red bell peppers are rich in both vitamin C and vitamin A. In fact, one ounce of red bell peppers contain twice the amount of vitamin C than what is present in citrus fruits. These bell peppers also contain vitamin E, which works with vitamin C to protect your tissues and boost immunity.

20. Spinach

Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse. It is an excellent source of vitamins K,  A, C, and folate, as well as a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B2. It contains many antioxidants that help boost the infection-fighting ability of our immune system.

21. Turmeric

Turmeric is well known for its amazing anti-inflammatory properties. It contains a compound known as curcumin, which is a potent immunomodulatory agent that can modulate the activation of T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells (15). Add some extra turmeric into your diet during flu season to help give your immune system a boost.

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22. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are rich in magnesium. They also contain selenium, which helps the immune system to control cell damage. The vitamin E content in sunflower seeds helps maintain healthy hair, nails, and skin. The phytochemical constituents of sunflower seeds, including phenolic acids, flavonoids, and tocopherols, also help to reduce inflammation (16).

23. Yogurt

Not only is yogurt rich in vitamins and protein, but it’s also a source of lactobacillus, a that helps fight off the bad guys and also gives your immune system a boost. Yogurt is also a good source of vitamin C, D, and zinc.

Final thoughts

Eating a healthy balanced diet is a great way to boost your immunity and maintain good health. Make these foods a part of your daily diet to make sure that your immune system gets all the nutrients that it needs to work properly.

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