Maintaining a healthy diet will always be one of the most important things when it comes down to reaching your fitness goals—but that’s not all it's useful for.
The foods you eat are a key part of a healthy immune system and so it’s important to know everything you can about the things you put inside your body. Not only will your gains thank you, but so will all of your body’s defenders. It’s important to remember that the immune system is a system after all, which means plenty of moving parts and interacting mechanisms.
The best way to support it is by living a holistically healthy life. That means plenty of exercise, a well-rounded diet, staying hydrated, and getting good quality sleep. Of course, many of the vitamins and minerals are easily obtainable through pill-form, but it’s always best to get the good stuff straight from the source.
Down below we’ve compiled the crème de la crème of immune system boosters. And better yet, a good portion of them are enjoyable to eat as well. Obviously, things will be easier or harder depending on your thoughts on leafy greens—but hopefully, everyone will be able to take something away on their plate.
Citrus is a heavy hitter when it comes to protecting yourself from illness—and not just when it comes down to preventing scurvy.
The big thing with citrus is that it’s a great source of vitamin C. Along with playing an important role in supporting your immune system, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and helps to maintain healthy blood vessels, skin, and bones. As an anti-inflammatory, the vitamin may help to delay heart conditions and also help absorb iron from plant foods.
Citrus fruits are also a good source of flavonoids—a nutrient responsible for plant color and aroma. However, they’re also useful for protecting against cell damage from free radicals—leading to anti-inflammatory purposes.
Lastly, they’re a good source of dietary fiber which helps to reduce cardiovascular diseases due to lowering LDL cholesterol. Citrus is one of the best things you can eat if you’re looking to give your immune function an edge.
Red bell peppers are a terrific source of both vitamin C and vitamin A. Like we mentioned above, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight cell damage from free radicals. It also boosts your immune response to potential attackers and has anti-inflammatory properties.
Furthermore, vitamin A in red peppers, along with its beta-carotene content, is a great way to support your vision health. Vitamin A specifically is also a great way to support your ability to heal wounds, ensure healthy skin cells, and boost your white blood cell health.
Garlic has been used far and wide for its antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Whether you’re fighting off infections or vampires, garlic is a solid contender for one of the best things you can include in your diet—not to mention it’s tasty as hell.
Furthermore, some research has shown that garlic may improve insulin release in individuals with diabetes, may aid in the elasticity of the aorta (preventing plaque from forming), and can help to reduce blood pressure if taken orally.
The pomegranate is a worthy contender for superfood status, and nearly every part of the fruit has been tested for antibacterial and anti-viral properties.
Along with offering itself as a good source of vitamins E, C, and K, the fruit is also a good source of folate and potassium. Pomegranate nutrients work as anti-inflammatory agents, helping against heart disease, arthritis, and helping with digestion.
Almonds, along with nuts such as walnuts and pistachios, are a fantastic source of vitamin E which is a necessary component for your immune system to fight off invaders.
But specifically with almonds, the skin has been shown to have potent anti-viral properties—improving your immune system’s antibody response. Furthermore, almonds support overall cardiovascular health, provide a good source of quality protein, help against diabetes, and have weight management benefits.
First and foremost, yogurt is a terrific source of animal protein and the nutrients that come along with it. This includes things like calcium, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-2, potassium, and magnesium. However, when it comes to the immune system yogurt is especially helpful.
It’s a great source of probiotics—otherwise known as the friendly bacteria that help to regulate and aid our digestive system.
Probiotics can reduce inflammation, which helps out with several health conditions while also keeping your gut in check. Furthermore, some research has shown that probiotics in some circumstances can mitigate the severity of the common cold.
The minerals found in yogurt are also key for keeping your immune system in fighting condition. Bonus points if you’ve found a yogurt that’s fortified with vitamin D. But if you don’t have time to chow down on enough yogurt to get your fill of probiotics, a high-quality supplement can help with that.
Another strong contender with superfood status, the humble blueberry contains a good source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins—this includes vitamins C and K, along with manganese, calcium, zinc, and magnesium.
Like citrus, blueberries are also a good source of flavonoids—helping as an antioxidant and reducing the damage done to cells by free radicals.
But maybe most importantly, they’re delicious.
A list including all the specific varieties of mushrooms that have immune system boosting effects would be in the hundreds, so you’ll have to shop around for the type that you find tasty and accessible.
Mushrooms have anti-inflammatory properties along with stimulating certain cells involved with the immune system’s functions. Furthermore, mushrooms are a great source of selenium, vitamin B-6, folate, and zinc. And to add to that, mushrooms also contain ergothioneine—a naturally occurring antioxidant that can give your immune system that extra edge.
When it comes to leafy greens, spinach is one of the best options out there.
Along with being a great source of folate, iron, and lutein, spinach also boasts a rich source of vitamin C along with antioxidants and beta carotene—all of which boost the infection-fighting ability of your immune system.
Like many other vegetables, it’s best eaten raw or at least cooked as little as possible. But a plus side to cooking slightly is that the vitamins and other nutrients in it will be easier for your body to absorb.
Sunflower seeds are one of the best seeds to start including in your diet if you haven’t already.
For one, they’re a good source of protein. This, along with its vitamin B-1 (thiamin), can help convert food to energy which will keep you energized throughout the day—and your workouts.
When it comes to improving your health, sunflower seeds have anti-inflammatory properties and also can improve your heart’s health due to being a source of healthy fats (including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated).
When it comes to the immune system, the seeds contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that support your body’s ability to fight off disease.
Without even going into its properties, one benefit is simply the fact that it’ll keep you hydrated—an important part of maintaining a healthy immune system.
But delving deeper, green tea has been used for centuries and its benefits have been extensively recorded. This includes having powerful antiviral properties, slowing the spread of viruses from one cell to the next, and aiding in the production of white blood cells and your body’s overall response to invaders.
Green tea is definitely a juggernaut in the health department—especially when it comes to boosting our immune systems.
This tasty fish is best known as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to both a healthy brain and a healthy heart. However, these fatty acids also prove to be beneficial when it comes to helping against inflammation and maintaining a healthy immune system.
Along with omega-3 fatty acids, salmon also boasts a wide array of vitamins and minerals. This includes things such as several complex B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, and astaxanthin.
Ginger is another food that has been used for a very, very long time for a wide variety of health uses.
Most of its claim to fame—at least in the immune system department—stems from its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These properties are key for keeping your immune system in check, but ginger also seems to enhance your immune response to potential intruders. And if that wasn’t enough, the root also has powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Along with helping out the immune system, ginger is also useful for soothing digestive issues, helping with weight loss, and assisting with blood sugar level control.
Whatever your feelings about broccoli, it’s undoubtedly one of the best foods you can eat if you want to turbocharge your immune system. Along with including a good amount of vitamin C, it’s also a terrific source of fiber, potassium, vitamin B-6, and vitamin A—while also being low in sodium and calories.
While not all of its claims have been studied well, some of them include benefits to digestion, the cardiovascular system’s health, anti-inflammatory properties, and potentially even cancer-preventing effects.
All in all, this is one of the better foods to include in your diet if you haven’t already.
One of the best fruits in terms of health benefits, a large part of its immune-boosting properties comes from the very high amount of vitamin C present in it.
Along with its vitamin C, papaya also contains nutrients such as carotenes, flavonoids, complex B vitamins, folate, and pantothenic acids—not to mention all of the minerals it offers as well.
Papaya has been shown to protect against heart disease, promote digestive health—and most important for our purposes—it also has anti-inflammatory effects. Paired with these anti-inflammatory properties, papaya’s vitamin C and A are sure to bring your immune system up to par.
If we know what miso is, we’ve most likely been acquainted with it in its soup form—but miso is actually a condiment made from fermented soybeans.
Along with improving digestion and reducing the risk of certain cancers, miso also has strong claims on being a terrific immune system booster.
For example, it’s a terrific probiotic which strengthens your gut flora—a necessary component for boosting immunity. Its probiotic properties also reduce your chances of getting sick, while also allowing you to recover faster when you do.
What immune-boosting list would be complete without the addition of chicken soup?
Research has shown that chicken soup can decrease both the duration and intensity of upper respiratory tract infections (such as the common cold) and also flu symptoms. This is because it inhibits the movement of white blood cells across the mucous membrane, reducing congestion.
Its secret lies in its source of vitamin A, C, magnesium, gelatin, phosphorus, and antioxidants. The protein also offers the amino acids necessary to build antibodies to fight infections, while the noodles give an easily digestible energy source that keeps your body satisfied.
Wheat germ is the part of the plant that grows into a new plant, and dietary wheat germ is filled to the brim with nutrients.
For one, it contains a good source of vitamin E, helping to protect cells from damage. It also contains folic acid which helps build new cells while also protecting you from certain types of cancer. The inclusion of magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc help to keep your heart, bones, nervous system, and immune system strong.
Furthermore, it’s an extremely easy ingredient to incorporate without adding a crazy amount of calories.
While often seen in supplement form, some fresh elderberries (if you can get your hands on them), can provide the same, if not more, benefits.
It’s been used as a medicine for a long time due to being packed full of antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients that help to fight inflammation. It’s also claimed to reduce and prevent symptoms of colds and flus.
Some other claims include helping with constipation, upper respiratory tract infections, kidney problems, minor skin conditions, fevers, and headaches.
Olive oil is a key part of the Mediterranean diet, helping with anti-inflammatory properties while also providing antioxidants to help your cells against being damaged.
The type to get is extra virgin olive oil because it has a high nutritional quality while also being composed of a wide variety of fatty acids, polyphenols, and vitamins.
Why extra virgin? The first press of olives contains the highest concentration of antioxidants, so that’s the stuff to get if you’re looking to oil up your immune system.
Citrus fruits are often given the vitamin C crown, but kiwis offer even more of it.
And like with citrus fruits, the vitamin provides powerful antioxidant properties that boost your immune system, while also helping in the production of collagen. Along with vitamin C, kiwis also contain vitamin E, A, K, a good source of potassium, folate, and fiber.
We’ve already mentioned beta-carotene a few times in this article, but sweet potatoes are one of the best sources of this nutrient.
Along with promoting gut health, healthy vision, brain function, and potentially fighting certain forms of cancer, the sweet potato also supports your immune system. Being rich in vitamin A, this root is key to maintaining healthy mucous membranes—especially those that are found in your gut.
Chickpeas are terrific legumes to add to your diet, on a very wide front.
They help when it comes to regulating blood sugar, promoting weight loss, heart health, and preventing hair loss.
When it comes to boosting the immune system, chickpeas are packed zinc and copper—two minerals that are essential for proper growth and functioning of immune cells. This is on top of the potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin B-6 that they offer as well.
Turmeric has also been used for a very long time, mostly as a spice but also as a healing agent.
It has amazing anti-inflammatory properties, along with antibacterial and antiseptic. Curcumin is the active ingredient within turmeric, and it has prebiotic-like properties that help to improve gut health.
Carrots are a great source of vitamins A and C, which act as antioxidants and help to keep your cells safe from damage from free radicals.
Adding to that, the juice from carrots is also a great source of vitamin B-6, which is necessary for optimal immune response. In studies, deficiencies of this vitamin were linked to weakened immunity to viruses and infections.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
Knowing what to put into our bellies (and with the correct quantities) is something that will turbocharge our progress and overall health. While the above is a good start, a well-rounded diet will get you over the finish line.
Especially around flu seasons, knowing the foods with the proper vitamins and minerals can give you the extra edge when it comes to both avoiding illnesses, and fighting them off. Whether you’ve already got an immune system of steel or not, the foods above are sure to impart terrific benefits.