Taking care of your health should be a year-long activity, not just when there's a threat looming. Thankfully, there are so many ways to make sure you remain healthy by protecting and boosting your immune system. With all the foods out there that can assist with your immunity, you have your choice of what you want to consume. We've provided a list with information backed by a handful of professionals in their respective fields to make sure you have the right knowledge. Here are the vegetables, fruits, oils, and more that can help boost your immune system.
Remember Green Boosts Your Immunity
Tea and honey is a beverage many like to sip when they're feeling under the weather. There's a good reason why this is so, but you'll benefit from green tea even more than the others.
"Due to the way it is processed, green tea, in particular, is very high in specific antioxidant compounds known as EGCG compared with black tea," Marissa Meshulam, MS states. She added, "Additionally, green tea contains an amino acid L-theanine, most notably known for positive effects on brain function, which also is thought to enhance immune function."
Turmeric Is Always There To Help
Have you ever had to get a shot of turmeric and ginger when under the weather? It's an acquired taste, but there's a reason people do it. There are also many different ways to incorporate the turmeric spice to help your immune system.
"Turmeric contains an anti-inflammatory called curcumin, which stimulates the activation of main fighting cells of the immune system. These are called T-cells," Dr. John Gilmer, Ph.D. said. While the taste is obscure, it's doing more good for you than bad.
Garlic Will Fend Off Your Sickness
Yes, your breath might smell some after consuming anything with garlic in it, but you're doing your body some good. Vampires hate it, but you're not a blood-sucking undead creature. When you're feeling off, get some garlic in you.
"Garlic contains the enzyme alliinase, which converts alliin to allicin, a beneficial sulfur compound that is believed to boost immune function and fend off the common cold and flu," Registered Dietitian Gabriele Geerts said. No wonder vampires never get better!
Good 'Ol Blueberries!
It's hard not to enjoy blueberries, so if you don't you might want to pay attention to this. This fruit has a high percentage of a vitamin you need to help keep your immune system strong.
"One serving (a handful or a cup) of blueberries provides 16 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C," Rizzo added. "Not only is vitamin C a key nutrient that helps the immune system work properly, it's also an antioxidant that helps to protect cells from damage."
Vegetables, Especially Broccoli, Are Always A Good Choice
Parents always urge their children to eat their vegetables. Not for tortuous reasons, but to help. One of the most important greens to ensure you're eating is broccoli. Due to what's inside of the vegetable that resembles a tree, it can help out tremendously.
"A chemical called sulforaphane is found in broccoli," Dr. Gilmer says, "This chemical triggers certain immune cells with antioxidant genes and enzymes to fight free radicals and prevent sicknesses." What's even better is numerous ways you can prepare it.
Get Your Fill Of These Little Seeds
Baseball players chew them regularly, and they're never the wrong choice to buy from the gas station. Sunflower seeds help your health more than you realize, making them pretty great food, even though they are so small.
"Sunflower seeds contain 35 percent of the daily value for vitamin E, which works as an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and may improve immune function," Michelle Dudash, author of Clean Eating for Busy Families claims. She says, "The seeds also contain protein and magnesium."
Did Someone Say, Yogurt?
Yogurt and kefir are pretty much the same, minus one huge difference. Kefir has three times the amount of probiotics in it compared to yogurt. Now, how do these two creamy products help with immunity?
"Yogurt and kefir are great ways to strengthen the immune system by providing the body with helpful probiotics, a set of live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial to improving digestive health," one expert said. Having a sound digestive system is key for upkeeping your health.
Grapefruit Is An Underrated Fruit
While grapefruit might not be the first choice you choose when you go down the produce aisle at the supermarket, you might want to reconsider that strategy. This fruit packs a punch when it comes to protecting your immune system. Jessi Holden, MS, explains how brilliantly.
"It is high in vitamin C (half a grapefruit has 68 percent of your recommended dietary intake), which has antioxidant properties and may boost your cells to fight off bacteria and viruses," said Holden.
Eggs, Eggs, And More Eggs!
Eggs are a treat because you can prepare them in so many ways, and they go well with different kinds of foods throughout the day, not just breakfast. Also, they have some incredible benefits for your immune system, according to Maggie Moon, author of The MIND Diet.
"Eggs are one of the few kitchen staples that provide a reliable and convenient source of immunity-boosting lutein. It's a carotenoid that works by enhancing the body's inherent immune response," said Moon. Lutein also helps pick up the slack for proteins when you're sick since your body has a higher demand for those molecules.
What Many Don't Realize About Popcorn
While popcorn might be one of the go-to snacks when it's time to enjoy the latest movie release, it does more than satisfy your snacking needs. Yup, popcorn helps your immune system thanks to the polyphenols it has.
"Polyphenols have similar properties to antioxidants that help prevent cardiovascular disease and some cancers," Cindy Dallow, Ph.D. said, "Popcorn contains 300 milligrams of polyphenols per serving, which is more than what is found in most fruits and vegetables!"
Pumpkin Seeds Are Another Helpful Seed!
Pumpkin seeds are a fantastic treat during the fall. After carving up your pumpkin for the holidays, you can clean and prepare the seeds however you wish. You'd be doing your immune system a great justice if you do this.
"Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, which is a mineral that is well-established for boosting immunity, helping the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses," said Trudy Scott, Food Mood Expert. Is anyone ready for October now?
Try Out Some Oily Fish
Seafood lovers have an advantage in keeping healthy if they like oily fish. While there is some concern with the consumption of raw fish and iron overload, all you have to do is eat in moderation. Also, be sure to examine your food before cooking it.
"Oily fish like salmon, trout, anchovies, and sardines are rich in essential omega-3s, which are a precursor to many compounds that play a defensive role in immune response," Dudash reported.
Clementines Are Very Helpful!
Every time you peel back a clementine and enjoy the juiciness it possesses, you're helping yourself as well. That's the beauty of fruits and vegetables; you don't always need to cook them and they're great at providing immune help.
"Clementines are easy to take with you wherever you go. They're packed with vitamin C, which helps prevent colds and fight infections," Karen Z Berg, MS, RD, said. Keep a few with you when you're on the go!
Another Spice To Help You
Anise is a spice that goes well with high-fat meats like duck, goose, and pork. The distinct flavor cuts through the fat and gives it a boost in a flavor your tastebuds will appreciate. This spice also helps with immunity.
"This spice is easily recognized by its distinctive licorice smell. Anise is a triple threat with antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. It also contains immunity-boosting antioxidants," Gilmer noted. What would you try this with next?
Boost Your Smoothie Or Oatmeal With Hemp Seeds
There are many benefits attached to hemp seeds, but we're here to focus on how it helps your immune system. These tiny seeds also contain a nice dosage of protein and fiber.
As far as boosting your immunity goes, Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner will help you understand. "Another important aspect of immune health is zinc since it helps fight against infection. Zinc isn't in that many foods, but just 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds contain about 20% of your daily needs, Rizzo said.
Don't Be Afraid Of A Little Red Bell Pepper
Red bell peppers can take your health to the next level if you consume them correctly. By that, we mean making sure you include them in your diet when you see fit and don't exclude them.
"Red peppers are one of my favorite foods to incorporate into my diet for immune system-boosting benefits," Keri Glassman, MS ad founder of Nutritious Life added. "Gram for gram, they have about twice the amount of vitamin C as most fruits and vegetables, including the most famous immune-boosters, oranges."
Sweet Potatoes Are Healthy Alternatives For A Reason
There are two types of people in the world: those who order the regular fries and those who want the sweet potato version. Science tells us the latter is the healthier choice, and for good reason.
"Sweet potatoes contain more than three times the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin A, a good source of vitamin B6, plus some magnesium and vitamin C—an antioxidant," said Dudash. Next time you have the chance to choose between sweet and regular potato, remember what you read here.
Have Yourself Some Roasted Chickpeas!
If you've never had roasted chickpeas or you're unaware of the benefits they provide, allow a Nutrition and Dietetic Technician, Registered (NDTR) to fill you in what good they bring. You might get surprised knowing what they're filled with!
"Not only are they a great substitute for chips when you get a crunchy craving, but they [also] contain the mineral zinc, which helps strengthen our immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses," Erin Marchefka, NDTR says.
What's Not To Like About Asparagus
The only downside to eating asparagus is that they have a peculiar smell that you get a good whiff of when you have to go number one. That's no good, but the benefits they provide are tons of fun.
"Asparagus is a great source of prebiotic fiber, which is the indigestible plant fiber that feeds the probiotics in your gut," Rizzo said. "Eating prebiotic fiber helps keep your gut and immune system healthy since 70 percent of your immune system lives in the gut."
Don't Forget Ginger!
Several studies have shown how ginger protects the body. In the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, one study reported that ginger guarded human tissue against viruses. When you combine ginger with garlic, both function as an antibacterial, says the 2011 Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials.
In cancer patients, ginger shows some promise. In 2011, research in the Official Journal of the Balkan Union of Oncology noted that ginger can kill some cancer cells. It also activates the immune system to prevent the body from catching diseases.
Have You Had Oil Of Oregano?
As you've learned so far, antioxidants help out your immune system a ton. Oil of oregano is a great source for that, and many other things that you'll enjoy if you want to keep healthy.
"Oregano is a natural antioxidant, anti-fungal, and antibiotic—which is exactly what your body needs to keep you healthy," Meshulam continued. "By consuming oregano in the concentrated oil form, you reap the most benefits." Head to your local market and secure some while you can!
Bag Some Bananas
Bananas have high amounts of potassium, vitamin C, and best of all, vitamin B6. Researchers from the University of Queensland, Australia, conducted a study on bananas' vitamin B6. They reported that eating this fruit regularly can improve your immune system.
Bananas can also fight inflammation. According to the journal Frontiers in Plant Science, bananas have an anti-inflammatory flavonoid called quercetin. It can reduce radical damage in the body to keep your organs healthy. Plus, they're tasty, easy on the stomach, and can help your digestive system.
Enjoy Bone Broth All Year Long
Soup has always been a food for people who are sick, but you can also eat it to ward off illness. In their book, Nourishing Broth, authors Kaayla T. Daniel and Sally Fallon Morell claim that bone broth can improve the immune system. Unlike many health claims about broth, this one has some scientific backing.
According to a 2000 study in the journal Chest, chicken broth does have some medicinal effects. It can reduce inflammation in the body, which is what soothes symptoms for people who are sick. But why save soup for when you're sick?
Drip Honey Into Your Tea
Honey is an antibacterial and antiviral superfood. In 2017, research in Pharmacognosy Research found that honey releases cytokines. These cytokines activate the immune response, which is why some tea with honey can improve symptoms in a sick person.
Laboratory studies show that honey can fight off bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. It also encourages the body to heal wounds, says wound care specialist Dr. Frank Bongiorno. Add honey to your oatmeal, smoothie, pastries, coffee, and tea for some natural immunity benefits.
Cook With Coconut Oil
Along with being a convenient cooking ingredient, coconut oil also strengthens the immune system. "If you want to lower your risk of heart disease, coconut oil is not a good choice," says Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard. The oil's unsaturated fats can delay heart disease.
Coconut also contains two disease-fighting lipids. According to research in Cell Death Discovery, these lipids can fight against both viruses and bacteria. All you have to do is cook with coconut oil a bit more often.
The Avocado Toast Truth
People who have hopped on the avocado toast trend may have stronger immune systems. In 2019, research in the journal Antioxidants pinpointed several of avocado's nutrients that strengthen the immune system. Its strong antioxidant properties can relieve stress in the body.
Avocados contain vitamins C, A, and B6, which can all support the immune system. A scientific review in The Journal of Nutrition claims that these vitamins can enhance the immune system. Plus, it does wonders for your cholesterol levels. Avocado toast, anyone?
What's Not To Love About Lemons?
What's a vitamin C powerhouse other than orange? Lemon! These tart fruits can boost your immune system, according to a 2013 scientific review that analyzed over 11,000 participants. A single lemon provides 50% of your vitamin C needs for a day, so you might as well enjoy some lemon water.
"The acidic environment in the stomach serves as a barrier, deterring pathogens from gaining a foothold and causing illness," explains Cleveland Clinic medical director Roxanne B. Sukol. Although lemons can't prevent you from getting sick, they are a healthy fruit to enjoy!
Tomatoes Help Because They Are Red
Tomatoes get their red color from their carotenoid, lycopene. According to The Journal of Nutrition, lycopene can encourage the growth of healthy immune cells. Study participants who drank tomato juice daily had stronger immune systems than those who didn't.
On the website Eat Right, registered dietitian and nutritionist Sarah Klemm agrees that tomatoes are immune-boosting. Its nutrients--vitamin A, vitamin E, and zinc--all act as antioxidants that soothe the body. Tomatoes' vitamin C also motivates the growth of antibodies, which fight off illnesses.
All About Almonds
If you want a nut that'll help your immune system, choose almonds. The skin of almonds contains chemicals that can fight against illness. In 2010, Italian researches found that these nutrients fight off viruses, such as the common flu.
"Almond skins are able to stimulate the immune response and thus contribute to an antiviral immune defense," said researcher Dr. Giuseppina Mandalari. Almonds are high in vitamin E and antioxidants that keep the body healthier for longer. And they make a filling snack!
Papayas are sweet, juicy, and vicious against diseases. In 2012, researchers reported that papaya extract "significantly increased immune functions" in participants. A single papaya has double the amount of daily recommended vitamin C, which may be why it's so healthy.
Did you know that you can also eat papaya leaves? In the journal Ministry in Health, Malayan researchers noted that the leaves enhance immunity, too. Specifically, they fortify the body against the dengue treatment. If that's not your cup of tea, eat the fruit. Your body will thank you.
Be Mindful of the Surfaces You Touch
Get your elbows ready! Even the slightest mistake can strike up a cold, and that includes touching surfaces that millions of others have already touched. A study from the University of Arizona discovered that in an office place, viruses spread across 50 percent of surfaces, and affecting employees within hours if just one person in the vicinity is infected.
That means after you wash your hands, "use a paper towel to turn off the faucet," says leading physician Partha Nandi. If you must, press the elevator button with your elbows!
Drink Lots and Lots of Water
Water has been and will always play a pivotal role in living a healthy life. Family medicine physician Renee Miranda says, "take your weight in pounds, divide in half, and this is approximately how many ounces of water you need a day."
That might sound like a lot, but it's for the better if you wish to avoid getting sick. For example, if you drink the appropriate amount of water, not only will your kidneys function better, but you improve your chances of beating a cold.
Get Some Sleep!
Sleep is another thing you shouldn't miss out on. We understand that life gets busy, and sometimes you need to get up early or stay awake past your usual bedtime, but getting enough sleep is essential to staying healthy.
When you’re low on sleep, studies show your immune system weakens, and you’re prone to getting sick. "Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for the body," Dr. Miranda says. “When we sleep, the body gets a chance to recuperate, repair, and rejuvenate.”
Clean Your Phone
Think about all the times you place your phone down throughout the day. It picks up germs all day long, with every surface you set it on, making it way dirtier than you think it is. Your hands can also pass on the bacteria.
"When someone in the house is sick, I sanitize surfaces you don't usually think of: doorknobs, faucets, toilet flusher, light switches, phones, and remotes," says New Jersey mom Genna Banafato. That mom has the right idea, anything to bring down the chances of catching a cold.
Get The Flu Shot
Not everyone wants to get a flu shot, but it turns out it is the most effective barrier between you and the flu. Some question why they would put the virus in them, but the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's vital.
"Of utmost importance, make sure you are up to date on all your vaccines," says Dr. Miranda. The flu shot is designed to prevent people from catching the flu and also helping reduce the amount of time spent recovering from sickness, ultimately helping reduce medical visits, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Meditation And Yoga Help Reduce Stress + Illness
Stress is strongly connected to a lowered immune system, and yoga and meditation are excellent ways to reduce it. If you want to boost your immune system, eliminate as much stress as possible. Dr. Miranda says, "start with some form of breathing exercises or meditation practices daily to help reduce stress levels."
Common effects of stress include headache, muscle tension or pain, fatigue, upset stomach and trouble sleeping. Studies show that yoga helps reduce stress, alleviating these symptoms.
Yogurt Consumption Shouldn't Be Overlooked
Probiotics have a ton of health benefits that include help preventing you from getting sick. You can find them in fermented foods, some cheeses, and yogurt. They manage the bacteria in your gut microbiome, both harmful and good bacteria.
"The majority of our immune system is based in our gut," says Palinski-Wade. “A healthy gut reduces inflammation in the body, allowing it to better fight off potential infections.” Greek yogurt is an excellent source for probiotics, and you can customize it by adding other helpful fruits to better your immune system even more.
Wash Those Hand Towels!
On average, bath towels need washing every two to three days. Hand towels need attention every day due to being more prone to germs because multiple people use them. Some people don't properly wash their hands!
A study found E. coli on 26 percent of kitchen towels tested and coliform on 89 percent. Additionally, "viral transmission can happen fairly quickly within the home," says Dr. Nandi. Keep this in mind next time you do laundry and don’t forget the towels.
Include More Zinc In Your Diet
Many "rely" on vitamin C to help prevent colds, but they might be doing it wrong. A better route to go is popping a zinc pill. A recent review showed that participants who had zinc experienced shorter colds.
“If you do take zinc, take it in the form of a syrup or lozenge, which allows it to stay in the throat where it can come into contact with a virus like a cold,” says nutrition and fitness expert Erin Palinski-Wade.
Going Outside Will Boost Your Immune System + Circulation
Overall, spending time outdoors is a great way to prevent sickness. "Getting outside for a change of scenery, going for a walk on a trail, and breathing fresh air promotes a more active lifestyle, helps with circulation, provides stress relief, and improves well-being," Dr. Miranda says.
Even during the colder months, people who spend more time outdoors spend less time laying on the couch with a cold. Even if you can only commit 20 minutes to a walk, or sitting outside, it will make a difference.
Watch Who You Keep As Company
Being around supportive friends and family members is one of the best environments to put yourself in for many reasons. On the other hand, when you're with negative, unsupportive people, your body can take offense to that.
"The human body adapts to whatever environment you expose it to, so when you expose the body to a positive environment, supportive friends and family, and work on stress relief with laughing therapy, the body experiences less stress, and this has positive health benefits." Dr. Miranda says.
Your Nose Needs A Flush
Research indicates that nasal irrigation increases your chances of avoiding nasal infections. "Reducing exposure is as simple as rinsing the internal nostrils with pure saline wash," says medical herbalist Tami Bronstein.
Germs that cause nasal infections are airborne, and unless we're already sick, chances are we’re breathing out of our noses. “Angle the spray nozzle into the inner tip of the nose—this is where the rhinovirus replicates, so you can interrupt its multiplication,” says Bronstein.
Have You Ever Tried Essential Oils?
Essential oils might not be an item that people use every day but it could be of assistance when combating colds. Essential oils are usually obtained by distillation and have the fragrance of the source they were extracted from.
"When I feel like I am coming down with something, I put a couple of drops of essential oils on my body and start to feel better within a couple of hours," says Carla Tappen of Morristown, New Jersey.
Don't Be Afraid To Do The Deed
This fact might excite some people or help them understand why they're not as sick as much. "If the experience is enjoyable and provides stress relief, then yes, intercourse can boost your immune system," Dr. Miranda says.
You read that correctly. Don’t be afraid to bask in the joys of romantic bliss if it’s acting as a stress relief agent. If you’re simply doing it for the thrills, it might not operate the same way.
Don't Be A Germaphobe
There is such a thing as being too concerned with cleaning. Like those people who wonder if soap bars hold onto germs, you don't have to take it to those extremes. "Of course, wash your hands after you use the restroom, but don’t go crazy sanitizing everything," says Katie Rey of Syracuse, New York, who says she rarely gets sick.
Being exposed to germs and dirt helps build your immunity, and this can be labeled as the hygiene hypothesis. Exposure to different types of bacteria and bugs creates a balanced immune system.
Pump Some Iron
Breaking a sweat and gaining some muscle never hurt anyone. In fact, it does the exact opposite when it comes to preventing colds. A frequent runner said she never gets sick and attributes to the exercise.
"Regular, moderate exercise may improve the immune system and aid in the prevention of illness," Palinski-Wade says. “One small study found that regular exercise prevented catching the common cold when compared to individuals who do not exercise regularly.” Conversely, if one remains sedentary too much, he or she increases the likelihood of becoming sick.
Eat Your Veggies
Vegetables should be in your diet. There are many superfoods that you should consume that have immune-boosting powers, and veggies lead the pack. You can prepare them in many different ways or combine them in smoothies to make a tasty drink.
"Vegetables are packed full of antioxidants, which fight against free radicals that can damage cells and weaken the immune system," Palinski-Wade says. “Dark green, leafy vegetables are packed full of vitamin C, which may help to reduce the duration of a cold slightly.”
Gargle The Water!
This tactic is more old school, but that doesn't mean it isn’t effective. A home remedy that many folks should consider bringing back into the fold is gargling. You don’t need anything besides water, and you’re set to go.
A study from Japan discovered that rinsing with water helps in preventing upper respiratory tract infections. Perhaps that’s why the practice is so common among the Japanese. Skeptics say the results need be replicated before proving it works, but we know it can’t hurt to try!