What diet supports a healthy immune system?

by | Jan 25, 2021 | Last updated Nov 16, 2022

We don’t usually think about our diet when we get a cold or an infection. But there can be a connection.

Your immune system plays a vital role in fighting bacterial and viral infections, and what you eat can have a big impact on how strong it is.

When you eat a well-rounded diet, you provide your body with the nutrients it needs to fight back against harmful bugs and infections that would otherwise do you harm. Let’s take a closer look at what to eat to support a healthy immune system.

Nutrients that support immune system health

There are numerous nutrients that can help support a healthy immune system. Here are just a few of the ones that are important:

  • Vitamin A: This vitamin supports your digestive tract and respiratory system. It’s found in broccoli, as well as carrots, sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C will be an essential nutrient for the immune system. It forms the foundation of antibodies, which stick to foreign viruses and bacteria and act as signals to your white blood cells to gobble them up. Citrus fruits are an essential vitamin C source.
  • Vitamin E: This micronutrient helps prevent damage to your immune system from free radicals. You can find plenty of vitamin E in foods such as seeds, nuts, avocado, and even some vegetable oils.
  • Zinc: Zinc deficiency has also been linked to immune system dysfunction. To keep zinc levels high, eat meat, seafood, beans, and nuts.
  • Protein: This macronutrient helps immune cells to reproduce, and supports a healthy immune system. Even though you can find plenty of protein in meat, less expensive protein forms include beans, nuts, and eggs.

Foods that boost your immune system

The truth is that there is no single food or dietary supplement will prevent infections or sickness.

However, your immune system includes white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, cytokines, and even your skin. All these things are nourished by what you eat.

That’s why the goal of eating should be to provide your immune system with the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it needs to build more antibodies and white blood cells that will keep your body healthy.

Here are foods that can boost and support your immune system.

Citrus fruits

Citrut fruits can help support a healthy immune system because they have vitamin C.

Some common examples of citrus fruits include oranges, tangerines, lemons, grapefruit, and limes.

Because the body doesn’t store vitamin C, it’s important to consume foods with this micronutrient on a regular basis. The recommended daily amount of vitamin C for women is 75 mg, and 90 mg for men.

It’s very easy to add citrus fruit to your diet. You can eat it as dessert, a snack, or even a topping on salads.

Papaya

While Papaya is not technically a citrus fruit, it is still a tremendous source of vitamin C.

One of the significant advantages of eating papaya is that it contains twice the daily recommended amount of vitamin C.

Papayas get their name from an important enzyme called Papain, which appears to have anti-inflammatory effects that can help your body fight infections.

Papaya also contains a wide variety of other minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and folate that benefit your body in general.

Like other fruits, you can eat papaya on its own, or in salads, deserts, or even baked goods.

Yogurt

Eating yogurt can help boost your immune system. However, make sure to eat brands that have live and active cultures (check the label!)

Yogurt may also have vitamin D, which is important for regulating your immune system. This micronutrient can also boost your natural defenses against certain diseases.

Greek yogurt is an excellent option because it contains live, active cultures, and it has a lot of protein with little sugar.

When eating yogurt, be mindful of store-bought brands with added sugar. These types of yogurts are often calorie dense, and less nutritious. If you find plain yogurt too bitter, try adding a drizzle of honey on it.

Chicken soup and poultry

When you are sick, there is a good chance that you reflexively reach for a bowl of chicken soup. That’s a good thing, because it can help reduce inflammation and make you feel better when fighting a cold.

Poultry also contains a wide variety of other nutrients that can help you keep your immune system functioning well.

For example, poultry like turkey and chicken contains a tremendous amount of vitamin B6. Only 3 oz of chicken meat or turkey meat contains close to a third of your daily recommended amount of vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 plays a significant role in numerous reactions throughout your body, including generating cells of your immune system. Broth or stock from chicken bones may also have chondroitin, which can support your immune system.

Almonds and other nuts

Another food that can help support your immune system is almonds, because of its high vitamin E content.

Even though vitamin C receives a lot of attention, vitamin E is just as important for healthy immune functioning. A cup of almonds will provide you with your daily amount of vitamin E.

Almonds can be eaten in numerous ways, including raw or roasted. They can be added on top of different dishes, like cereal or yogurt.

Sunflower and other seeds

Another food that you might want to eat regularly to keep your immune system healthy is sunflower seeds.

Besides containing plenty of vitamin D, sunflower seeds also have many other vital nutrients, including phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium.

In fact, a single ounce of sunflower seeds contains nearly half of the selenium that you need daily. 

Many studies have taken a closer look at selenium’s role in fighting viral and bacterial infections. Selenium has been shown in animal studies to be effective in boosting the immune system’s ability to fight back against bacteria and viruses.

Turmeric

When you think about turmeric, you probably think about the potent spice that provides curry with its kick.

However, Turmeric has received a lot of attention in recent years due to its anti-inflammatory effects, which may help with the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The reason why turmeric looks the way it does is it contains a lot of curcumin, which has antiviral properties.

While research is limited, early studies have shown that curcumin can play a role in helping the immune system fight back against certain viral infections.

If you would like to incorporate turmeric in your diet as a way to power your immune system, the good news is that there are plenty of options at your disposal. There are countless types of curry that you can make that contain high amounts of turmeric. This includes red curry, green curry, yellow curry, coconut curry, and countless other varieties.

Green tea

Green tea is packed with flavonoids, which are a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are essential for protecting your immune system as you fight back against infections.

This type of tea is also high in a specific antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG), which has been shown to boost the immune system. (By contrast, the fermentation process limits the amount of EGCG in black tea.)

In addition to EGCG, green tea also contains a lot of L-theanine, which helps your T-cells fight back against germs.

Garlic

Garlic is known for its immune-boosting properties.

The source of these properties in garlic may be compounds like allicin, which was shown in one study to help fight malaria.

Even though it is true that garlic can help boost your immune system, there;s a common misconception that garlic will directly kill bacteria and viruses. This is not the case.

If you are wondering how you can incorporate more garlic into your diet, the good news is that there are countless options from which to choose. Some of the best ways that you can eat more garlic include:

  • You can add garlic to a fresh omelet that you eat for breakfast.
  • You can incorporate a significant amount of garlic in hummus, which also provides plenty of protein.
  • Think about adding some garlic to your stir-fry dish for dinner.
  • You can add plenty of fresh garlic to pasta.
  • They even make bagels that are topped with garlic.

Fresh ginger root

Another common spice that supports immune system health is ginger.

Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties. There is also some evidence that ginger may help reduce chronic pain and even help reduce cholesterol levels.

If you would like to add more ginger to your diet, there are plenty of available options.

Therefore, think about adding a little bit of it to your stir-fry rice or noodles. Ginger is also a component that is found in numerous sweet desserts.

Spinach

This leafy vegetable is packed with vitamin C and beta-carotene, two important micronutrients for the immune system.

It’s also packed with antioxidants, which can prevent the harmful effects of free radicals, supporting the immune system.

Shellfish

Shellfish are a great source of zinc, which can help support immune function. Some common shellfish are oysters, lobster, crab, and muscles.

The daily recommended amount of zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women. If you eat too much zinc, it can inhibit your immune system, so make sure not to overdo it.

Red bell peppers

Fruits aren’t the only way to get vitamin C. Red bell peppers are actually a wonderful source for this micronutrient.

In fact, red bell peppers contain nearly three times as much vitamin C compared to oranges. Also, red bell peppers are an important beta-carotene source, another building block of your immune system.

Broccoli

Broccoli is packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E. All of these vitamins work together to keep your immune system healthy.

In addition, broccoli is also an essential source of fiber. Fiber plays a significant role in gastrointestinal health, so you can flush bacteria and viruses out of your body. t.

Research shows that steaming broccoli is the best way to access its nutritional content. However, there are countless ways to prepare this versatile and tasty vegetable.