In this article, we will explore a range of foods that are known for their immune-boosting properties.
By incorporating these items into our daily meals, we can fortify our immune system and promote long-term health without the need for extravagant claims or complicated remedies.
Best Foods for the Immune System
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Green tea
- Sunflower seeds
- Sweet potatoes
1. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes are high in vitamin C, a nutrient known for its immune-boosting properties. Vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections.
Our bodies do not produce or store vitamin C, so regular intake is essential for health. These fruits are also rich in antioxidants that protect against cell damage and help maintain overall health.
2. Bell peppers
Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, even more so than citrus fruits. They are also packed with beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A by your body for healthy eyes and skin.
Bell peppers provide a sweet flavor while boosting your immune system.
Consuming a variety of colors, like red, green, and yellow, can help you benefit from their different nutrients.
Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. It is rich in vitamins A, C, and E, fiber, and many other antioxidants, making it one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your table.
The key to preserving its powerful nutrients is to cook it as little as possible, steaming being the best cooking method. Broccoli bolsters the immune system and also supports heart and digestive health.
Garlic is recognized for its value in fighting infections. It has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. Garlic’s immune-boosting abilities come from a concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
It may also help lower blood pressure and slow down the hardening of arteries. Incorporating more garlic into your diet is an easy way to bolster immune health.
Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant due to its essential oil, gingerol. It can help decrease inflammation and reduce sore throat and other inflammatory illnesses.
Ginger also aids in nausea reduction and has impressive antiviral and antibacterial properties. These characteristics can boost your immune system and promote overall health.
Spinach is not only rich in vitamin C, but it’s also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which increases the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems. Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible to retain its nutrients.
However, light cooking enhances its vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid, an antinutrient.
Yogurts that are labeled with “live and active cultures” are probiotic-rich, meaning they are filled with beneficial bacteria for your gut. These bacteria strengthen the digestive tract’s defense against harmful pathogens.
Many yogurts are also fortified with vitamin D, which helps regulate the immune system and boosts our body’s natural defenses against diseases.
Almonds are packed with vitamin E, which is key to maintaining a healthy immune system. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it requires the presence of fat to be effectively absorbed, and almonds are packed with healthy fats.
Almonds also contain iron and protein that are essential for your immune system. Eating a handful of almonds a day can support both your immune health and nutritional needs.
Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, mainly due to a compound called curcumin. Curcumin is known to enhance the body’s immune response.
This bright yellow, bitter spice has also been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Incorporating turmeric into your diet can aid in maintaining a healthy immune system.
10. Green Tea
Green tea is packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that enhances the function of the immune system. It also contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another powerful antioxidant.
The fermentation process for black tea destroys a lot of the EGCG, while green tea’s lighter processing method allows it to retain it.
Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine, which aids in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T-cells.
Papaya is another fruit loaded with vitamin C — a single papaya can fulfill more than 200% of your daily vitamin C requirement. It also carries a digestive enzyme called papain that has anti-inflammatory effects.
Papayas have decent amounts of potassium, B vitamins, and folate, all of which are beneficial to your overall health. Eating papaya can boost your immunity and improve digestion.
Kiwi fruits are naturally full of a ton of essential nutrients, including folate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C.
Vitamin C boosts the white blood cells to fight infection, while the other nutrients in kiwi keep the rest of your body functioning properly. Regular consumption of kiwi is a tasty and nourishing way to support the immune system.
Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, are excellent sources of vitamin B-6. This vitamin is essential for many biochemical reactions in the body and is crucial to producing healthy red blood cells.
Additionally, bone broth made from chicken is packed with gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients that are beneficial for boosting immunity and promoting gut health. Regularly consuming poultry can contribute to a robust and well-functioning immune system.
Shellfish isn’t traditionally known as immune-boosting food, but some types are packed with zinc, a mineral our bodies need for immune cell function.
Varieties high in zinc include crab, clams, lobster, and mussels. However, remember that you don’t want to consume more than the daily recommended amount of zinc in your diet.
15. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, including phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamins B-6 and E. Vitamin E is important in maintaining and regulating the immune system function.
Other seeds and nuts, such as flaxseeds and almonds, are also beneficial for their vitamin E content. Including sunflower seeds in your diet can provide essential fats and vitamins for overall health and a well-functioning immune system.
16. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, a type of antioxidant that gives the skin of the potatoes its orange color. Beta carotene is a source of vitamin A, which helps maintain the health of your skin, the first line of defense against pathogens.
It also boosts overall immune function. Moreover, sweet potatoes provide fiber, which can support gut health, a key component of the immune system.
Berries are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants, which can help boost the immune system. They are also high in fiber which is beneficial for your overall health.
Blueberries, in particular, contain a type of flavonoid called anthocyanin, which has antioxidant properties that can boost your immune system.
Incorporating a variety of berries into your diet can ensure a balanced intake of immune-supporting nutrients.
How to Naturally Boost Your Immune System
Boosting your immune system naturally involves several lifestyle and dietary changes. Here are a few strategies:
- Healthy Eating: Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet. Foods rich in vitamin C, E, A, D, B6, and B12, and minerals like zinc, selenium, and iron are particularly important for maintaining a strong immune system.
- Hydration: Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water, helps your body function optimally and boosts your immunity.
- Physical Activity: Regular exercise contributes to good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
- Adequate Sleep: Your immune system functions best when it’s not deprived of sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours per night for adults.
- Stress Management: Chronic stress can negatively impact your immune system. Consider stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices.
- Avoiding Bad Habits: Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Both can impair your immune system and make you more susceptible to infections.
- Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Obesity can lead to a weakened immune system. It can affect the ability of white blood cells to multiply, produce antibodies, and prevent inflammation.
- Hygiene Practices: Washing your hands regularly and maintaining good general hygiene helps stop the spread of germs and infection.
- Regular Check-ups: Regular medical check-ups can help ensure your immune system is functioning well. It’s also an opportunity to catch any potential problems early.
Remember: While you can make lifestyle adjustments to help your immune system function better, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or dietitian before making any drastic changes. They can provide advice tailored to your specific needs and conditions.
Maintaining a healthy immune system is essential for overall well-being and protection against illnesses. By incorporating immune-boosting foods into our daily diet, we can give our body the nutrients it needs to function optimally.
While no single food can guarantee immunity, a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can help support our immune system and reduce the risk of infection.
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
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