14 Foods To Support Your Immune System, According To A Dietitian
"You are what you eat" may sound cliche, but it's right on point. The foods you eat dictate how healthy you are, and that's because nutrients – especially vitamins and minerals – play a crucial role in how well your immune system functions.
But not all foods are created equal. There are specific vitamins and minerals that regulate different processes in your body that can affect immune function. Foods high in these micronutrients are especially helpful for supporting immune health, and other foods can offer additional benefits for your immune system.
If you're looking for an immune system boost, here are 14 powerful immune-supporting foods to consume regularly as part of your balanced diet.
Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E. This powerful antioxidant helps defend your cells – including immune cells – against damage caused by free radicals.
Our immune system contains specialized immune cells known as T-cells, which fight off pathogens to help protect us against illness. As the body ages, T-cell function declines. Vitamin E can help support healthy immune cell function, especially as we age.
Enjoy a handful of almonds as a snack, use almond milk in your smoothies, or spread almond butter on whole wheat toast.
Beyond being a great source of plant protein, beans also contain L-glutamine, an essential amino acid that serves as fuel for white blood cells, the ‘soldiers' of your immune system army.
Beans are also extremely nutritious and provide many important micronutrients such as B vitamins, folate, potassium, and magnesium. They come in a wide variety and are incredibly versatile, making them a perfect addition to almost any meal.
Beans make for a great meat substitute and can add more lean protein in your diet. Try kidney beans in vegetarian chili, black beans in taco salads, baked pinto beans over rice, and white beans in soups.
3. Bell Peppers
If you thought oranges were the best source of vitamin C, think again. One serving of bell peppers contains nearly three times more vitamin C than a serving of oranges.
Vitamin C supports the immune system in several ways. For one, it stimulates the production of white blood cells, which help fight infections. It's also a potent antioxidant, which supports a healthy inflammatory response and helps protect immune cells against damage.
Finally, vitamin C supports healthy levels of interferons and antibodies. Interferons are proteins that interfere with virus growth, while antibodies neutralize potentially harmful pathogens.
Chop bell peppers into a stir-fry, snack on raw mini peppers with hummus, or enjoy oven-baked stuffed peppers.
Blueberries may be small, but they are not short on health benefits.
In addition to being a rich source of vitamin C, blueberries also contain the flavonoid anthocyanin. This pigment is found in certain fruits and vegetables and has powerful antioxidant properties that help protect immune cells and support the immune system.
They seem to also play an important role in the respiratory system's immune defense. Research has demonstrated that people consuming diets high in flavonoid-rich foods are less likely to develop respiratory tract infections.
Add fresh blueberries to yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal in the morning. Blend frozen blueberries with banana and spinach for a smoothie, or add them to baked goods. Wild blueberries may contain even more antioxidants than regular blueberries, so opt for those when possible.
5. Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium, a key mineral for healthy immune function. In fact, a single Brazil nut provides a whopping 175% of the daily requirement for selenium, so consuming one Brazil nut per day is an effortless way to support your immune system.
Keep Brazil nuts in your pantry, car, or desk drawer for an easy snack. Enjoy them chopped in granola or energy bars, or blend them to make nut butter.
One of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world, broccoli is packed with three immune-supporting vitamins: A, C, and E.
Vitamin A helps bolster the body's innate immune system and assists in the production of antibodies, while vitamin C and E are potent antioxidants that help protect immune cells from oxidative damage.
Steam or roast broccoli to pair with a meal, mix chopped broccoli into rice or salads, or enjoy raw broccoli florets with your favorite dip.
Note: boiling vegetables results in key nutrients leaching into the water, so this is the least desirable cooking method unless you also use the water for soups or stews.
Similar to broccoli, carrots are packed with immune-supporting vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin C.
In fact, one cup of carrots provides more than 100% of the daily requirements for vitamin A. Research shows that a lack of vitamin A in the diet can weaken the immune system and lead to increased risk of illness.
Carrots also contain beta carotene which has been shown to support healthy immune cell function.
Snack on baby carrots, try honey-roasted carrots or enjoy raw shredded carrots in salads or stir-fries.
Perhaps one of the most widely used foods in the world, garlic is found in almost every type of cuisine. Garlic is extremely beneficial for immune health as it contains allicin, a sulfur-containing compound with antimicrobial properties. It also helps the body absorb zinc, a mineral that is essential for healthy immune function.
Garlic is extremely versatile and can be used for seasoning any type of dish – from dinner entrées to breakfast scrambles. It can also be roasted on its own or paired with other vegetables.
An immune-defending warrior, ginger has been used for centuries to support the body's normal inflammatory response to discomfort, such as a sore throat from the occasional cold. It also contains antiviral and antibacterial properties to help bolster a healthy immune response.
Raw ginger makes for a great addition to wellness shots, smoothies, vegetable juices, and even chicken soup. Ginger tea with lemon and honey makes for the perfect natural remedy to soothe sore throats from the occasional common cold.
10. Green Tea
Green tea is packed with flavonoids, which have natural immunosuppressive properties and can promote the activation of immune cells. Additionally, green tea contains high levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to support innate immune function. Finally, green tea is also a good source of L-theanine, an amino acid that can help the body produce germ-fighting compounds.
Green tea can be enjoyed hot or cold, and it makes for a great replacement for coffee as it contains some caffeine.
When it comes to the leafy greens family, kale truly excels. One of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, kale is not only beneficial for supporting immune health but also for improving overall health. Compared to spinach, kale contains significantly more vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium, four powerful nutrients for immune support.
Add raw kale to smoothies, green juices, and salads. Sauteed kale is perfect for stir-fries or seasoned with garlic as a side dish. For a snack, try kale chips.
A vitamin C superstar, just one kiwi provides more than 100% of the daily requirement for vitamin C, which helps nourish white blood cells. Kiwi also contains vitamin E and minerals, such as folate and copper, that support healthy immune function.
Kiwi is perfect on its own as part of breakfast or as a snack. Kiwi can also be added as a topping to smoothie bowls or enjoyed dehydrated as chips.
The mushroom family includes several species that have been shown to directly modulate immune function and strengthen the body's defense. Maitake, shiitake, reishi, chaga, turkey tail, lion's mane, and cordyceps mushrooms have all been shown to have immune-supportive effects as well as antioxidants to help the body fight oxidative stress.
Sautée mushrooms with soy sauce to pair with pasta dishes. Grilled portobello mushrooms make for a great meatless burger alternative.
You can also find nutritional supplements that contain immune-boosting mushrooms such as Immune Ultra, which has shiitake, reishi, and maitake mushrooms. This drinkable supplement is one of the easiest ways to get your daily dose of immune-boosting superfood mushrooms, along with other powerhouse immune support nutrients.
14. Sunflower seeds
Tiny but mighty, sunflower seeds are immune-supporting superstars. They boast several immune-enhancing nutrients such as selenium, zinc, and vitamin E.
In fact, a one-ounce serving of sunflower seeds provides more than one-third of the daily requirement for selenium. They also provide zinc, which is required for the growth and development of immune cells and provides structure to many proteins that help protect cellular health.
Sunflower seeds can be found in many trail mixes, energy bars, and granolas. You can also add them to salads, rice bowls, noodles, or oatmeal. Sunflower seed butter is a great allergen-free alternative to nut butter.
Other immune-supporting strategies
Beyond eating a healthy diet, there are other lifestyle factors you can use to support a healthy immune system. Getting regular physical activity, finding ways to reduce stress, and getting quality sleep are all great everyday health care strategies.
Nutritional supplements can also be an effective way to support your immune health. A regular, high concentration of targeted nutrients and antioxidants can help provide your immune cells with the inputs they need to function at their best.
Immune Ultra is formulated with clinically-proven Wellmune® and Epicor®, plus 3 immune-boosting mushroom superfoods, plant powerhouses like Elderberry, Astragalus, and Echinacea, as well Vitamin C, D, Zinc and probiotics. This drinkable supplement has everything you want to keep your immune system on point. Plus, it tastes great and keeps you hydrated!
About the Author
Carolina Schneider, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and a writer specializing in plant-based nutrition. Carolina is the founder of Hungry for Plants, a company dedicated to offering nutrition consulting services to health and wellness brands, primarily in the plant-based food and beverage space.