With the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, many people are concerned about staying healthy and maintaining a healthy immune system. Doing so can benefit your body and boost your defenses against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Immunity booster foods to help you stay strong to fight off infections.
16 Foods That Boost and Improve Your Immune System
Mushrooms (Immune System Boosters)
Wondering how to boost your immune system? Eat more button mushrooms. Mushrooms are high in selenium and B vitamins like riboflavin and niacin. These minerals and vitamins are necessary for the immune system to work in tip top form. Mushrooms are also high in polysaccharides, sugar-like molecules that boost immune function
Onions (Immune Health)This vegetable is particularly high in vitamin C, a nutrient involved in regulating immune health, collagen production, tissue repair and iron absorption.
Acai Berry (Antioxidant-Rich Berry)
Acai berry is a black-purple fruit that is derived from the acai palm tree in Brazil, Trinidad, and certain parts of South America. The fruit is high in anthocyanins. These flavonoid molecules are very potent antioxidants. They combat oxidative stress in the body by mopping up free radicals. Antioxidants are credited with boosting immunity and lowering inflammation in the body.
Elderberries (Modern Day Folk Medicine)
Elderberrry is a shrub that has been used medicinally for centuries. Sambucus nigra, or black elderberry bush, is the version most commonly used to make syrup and lozenges. Extracts of elderberry have antiviral, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. Elderberry is also high in flavonoids. People take elderberry syrup as a remedy for colds, flus, and bacterial sinus infections. The plant medicine works by reducing swelling in mucus membranes. Some studies suggest elderberry extract reduces the duration of the flu. If it works for flu infections, it may help your immune system against coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.
Elderberry benefits are numerous, however, the remedy may interact with certain prescription medications. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist prior to adding any new remedy to your regimen.
Oysters (Seafood Superfood)
Oysters are a nutritional powerhouse from the sea. One 3-ounce serving of Pacific oysters provides 190% of the daily value of selenium, 45% of the daily value of iron, and 20% of the daily value of vitamin C, all for just 140 calories. One 3-ounce serving of oysters contains 16 grams of high-quality protein. The seafood also provides zinc and vitamin A. These vitamins and minerals in oysters are critical for proper immune function.
Watermelon is an immune-boosting fruit. One 2-cup serving of watermelon has 270 mg of potassium, 30% of the daily value of vitamin A, and 25% of the value of vitamin C. Calories in watermelon aren’t much at all. One 2-cup serving of watermelon has just 80 calories. Watermelon also provides vitamin B6 and glutathione. The body needs these vitamins, nutrients, and compounds like glutathione for proper immune function.
Wheat germ is the innermost part of the wheat kernel. It is the most nutrient rich part of the grain. The germ is rich in B vitamins, zinc, and vitamin E. Sprinkle wheat germ on top of yogurt or cereal or add it to a shake. Wheat germ makes an easy addition to bump up the nutrition in baked goods. Substitute wheat germ for a bit of white flour in recipes to get some extra vitamins and minerals.
Look for yogurt that has “live and active cultures” printed on the label, like Greek yogurt. These cultures may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases. Try to get plain yogurts rather than the kinds that are preflavored and loaded with sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt yourself with healthy fruits and drizzle of honey instead. Yogurt can also help meet your daily requirements for vitamin B12, vitamin D, and vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Adequate levels of vitamin D and other nutrients are necessary for robust immune function. Yogurt is rich in probiotics, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidus. These strains boost immune function and may even help reduce both the length and severity of colds. Beneficial gut flora is needed for proper digestion, detoxification, and immune function. Probiotics even help reduce eczema symptoms in babies.
Spinach (Leafy Green Superfood)
Spinach gets top billing as a superfood thanks to its high content of folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, magnesium, and iron. The nutrients in spinach boost immune function and provide the body with the necessary nutrients for cell division and DNA repair. Reap maximum benefits by eating it raw or lightly cooked to preserve nutrients.
Tea (A Cup of Immunity)
About half the population in the United States drinks tea regularly. Antioxidants in tea called polyphenols and flavonoids are credited with boosting immune function. These compounds may also reduce the risk of heart disease. Drinking green tea favorably affects blood lipids, increasing good HDL cholesterol and decreasing LDL bad cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol.
The medicinal properties in turmeric may be able to boost the immune system, even in people with immune disorders.
Turmeric is generally safe as long as you consume it in moderation.
Turmeric tea is considered safe for most people to drink. It can relieve pain and inflammation without the side effects that even over-the-counter medications like NSAIDs can cause, such as internal bleeding, ulcers, and reduced white blood cell count.
Almost anyone can benefit from drinking turmeric tea, especially because it can boost the immune system and act as an anticancer agent. People with pain caused by inflammation can perhaps benefit the most. People who have diabetes or who take blood thinners should talk to their doctors before trying any turmeric supplement, however.
Sweet Potatoes (Orange Spuds Are Better)
One medium sweet potato packs a whopping 120% of the daily value of vitamin A and 30% of the daily value of vitamin C, all for just 100 calories. These vitamins are crucial for immune function and great for your skin. Sweet potatoes are a cholesterol-free and fat-free food, so you get all the helpful, immune-boosting vitamins without the guilt. Sweet potatoes serve up a healthy portion of fiber, too.
Broccoli is a nutrient-packed powerhouse to support your immune system. One cup of broccoli provides as much vitamin C as an orange. The veggie is also high in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Broccoli supplies an array of B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, and B6). Together, these vitamins and minerals help the immune system to run in top form. Another healthy compound offered up by broccoli: glutathione, the master antioxidant in the body.
People have praised garlic for ages for its immune-boosting properties. Garlic has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties. The bulbs are rich in antioxidants that quench free radicals that play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancers, and other conditions. The antiviral properties may be helpful in reducing the severity of colds, flu or COVID-19 infections. In one study, people who took garlic supplements during cold season caught fewer colds than those who took placebo pills. If you do catch a cold, garlic can shorten the duration of it. If you do try garlic supplements, be mindful that the one you choose contains the active ingredients contained in real garlic.
Garlic and Cancer
Garlic boosts the portion of the immune system that is tasked with fighting viruses and cancer. Several studies have documented a link between garlic use and reduced rates of many different types of cancers. People who regularly consume lots of raw or cooked garlic have 30% to 35% fewer colorectal cancers than those who do not. In one small study of people who had inoperable pancreatic, colorectal, or liver cancers, immune function was improved when participants took aged garlic extract for 6 months.
Miso Soup (Fermented Foods and Immunity)
Miso soup has been a staple in Japanese cuisine for centuries. Miso is a salty paste made from fermented soybeans. It is rich in probiotics that are beneficial for gastrointestinal health and boosting the immune system. A lack of beneficial bacteria or an imbalance of bacteria in the GI tract is associated with a variety of medical conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food allergies, gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), and even certain kinds of cancers. Sipping a cup of miso soup is a great way to introduce beneficial food-based probiotics into the GI tract.
Mom was right to make a pot of homemade chicken soup when you got sick. It turns out there are very real, scientific reasons chicken soup helps you get over a cold more quickly. When cold viruses invade tissues of the upper respiratory tract, the body responds by triggering inflammation. This inflammation signals white blood cells to move to the area and stimulates the production of mucus. Ingredients in chicken soup appear to halt the movement of white blood cells, thereby decreasing mucus associated with colds. Too sick to cook from scratch? Canned chicken soup can ease cold symptoms, too.
To get over a cold more quickly, sip lots of warm liquids like chicken soup, ginger tea, and warm water with lemon. Staying hydrated helps thin mucus secretions and flushes the virus out of your body. Taking zinc lozenges, syrup, or tablets within 24 hours of exhibiting cold symptoms can help reduce the duration of a cold. Taking vitamin C supplements throughout the cold season may not keep you from catching a cold, but it may help ease symptoms if you do catch one. It may ease symptoms of the flu and coronavirus infections, too.
Ginger (Anti-inflammatory Root)
Antioxidant compounds in ginger root have potent anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Normal metabolic processes in the body, infections, and toxins all contribute to the production of free radicals resulting in oxidative stress. Antioxidants in foods like ginger quench free radicals and help guard against arthritis, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders. Grate some fresh ginger and steep it in hot water to make tea. Fresh grated ginger also makes a great addition to healthy stir-fried veggies. Ginger has proven antibacterial and antiviral properties
Maximizing the health of your immune system is easy when you know which foods to eat. Eat these 16 immune-boosting foods to keep your immune system in the topmost form.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: “Elderberry”
- Fruits & Veggies More Matters: “Top 10 Ways to Enjoy Mushrooms”
- Nutrition Today, vol 49, 2014: “Mushrooms – Biologically Distinct and Nutritionally Unique”
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol 104, 2016: “Consumption of a Flavonoid-Rich Acai Meal Is Associated with Acute Improvements in Vascular Function and a Reduction in Total Oxidative Status in Healthy Overweight Men”
- ClinicalTrials.gov: “Acai”
- SeafoodHealthFacts.org: “Oysters”
- Watermelon Board: “Watermelon Nutrition”
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: “Crude Wheat Germ”
- Dairy Council of California: “Yogurt Nutrition”
- Fruits & Veggies More Matters: “Spinach. Nutrition. Selection. Storage.”
- EatRight.org: “Health Benefits of Tea”
- Fruits & Veggies More Matters: “Sweet Potato: Nutrition. Selection. Storage.”
- Dairy Council of California: “Health Benefits of Broccoli”
- University of Maryland Medical Center: “Garlic”
- Nutrition in Clinical Care: “Probiotics and Medical Nutrition Therapy”
- Chest: “Chicken Soup Inhibits Neurotrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “5 Tips: Natural Products for the Flu and Colds: What Does the Science Say?”
- Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “The Pomegranate: Effects on Bacteria and Viruses That Influence Human Health”
- International Journal of Preventive Medicine: “Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of the Current Evidence”