We all want to take care of our health, and research shows that incorporating immune-boosting foods into your diet is one of the best ways to do this.
So if you’re looking for ways to steer clear of colds, flu, and other infections as we head into the colder months, one of the first things to do is consider which foods may be most beneficial.
With this in mind, here are 14 foods that can boost immune health.
Elderberry is considered to be one of the world’s most healing plants. The berries and flowers of elderberry are full of vitamins (including vitamin C) and antioxidants that may help to boost your immune system.
As a result, some experts recommend elderberry for helping prevent and treat cold and flu symptoms. For example, this study found that elderberry extract prevented the growth of certain forms of strep bacteria and flu viruses.
It’s important to note that elderberries can’t be eaten raw like raspberries or blueberries. Instead, they need to be cooked first to remove the lectin and cyanide which can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
You’ll find everything you need to know about preparing and eating elderberries in this guide from Countryfile. Elderberries can be purchased from whole foods stores online or in person, and elderberry syrup is available to buy on Amazon. Holland and Barrett also sell elderberry gummies, though it’s important to consult your doctor before taking any new supplements.
Almonds contain high levels of vitamin E; a powerful antioxidant that can protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. They’re also an excellent source of minerals like copper and manganese, which, working in tandem with vitamin E, can improve your immune response.
For example, studies have found that eating almonds can help to reduce chronic inflammation. While having some inflammation in the body is important – because it signals to the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, due to injury or infection – too much, or chronic inflammation, can lead to various diseases.
In addition, some researchers have noted that almond skins offer numerous health benefits, including stimulating increased production of white blood cells. White blood cells are the body’s main response to fighting off viral infections, such as the common cold or flu.
For ideas and inspiration on how to add more almonds to your diet, check out these almond recipes from BBC Good Food. You’ll find everything from spiced almonds to pomegranate and almond couscous.
3. Red peppers
Citrus fruits like oranges tend to be given most of the limelight when it comes to vitamin C. However, science shows that ounce for ounce red peppers actually contain around three times more vitamin C than oranges.
Red peppers are also a great source of beta carotene; a form of vitamin A that supports healthy skin, protective mucous membranes, and the immune system.
Red peppers make great additions to dishes like stir-fry, stew, or blended up in a soup. You’ll find plenty of inspiration in this list of red pepper recipes from Olive Magazine.
Tip: Research has shown that roasting red peppers reduces their vitamin C content by up to 25%, so it’s worth considering how you eat them for maximum benefits. For example, you could cut them up and eat them raw, or add them to a quick stir fry.
4. Acai berries
Acai berries are one of the original superfoods, and for good reason.
The majority of the Acai berry’s immune-boosting qualities are down to its impressive offering of antioxidants, which research has consistently shown are needed for a healthy immune system.
Studies have also shown that eating Acai berries can help boost the production of T-Cells (white blood cells that are essential for normal immune function).
Additional research suggests that Acai berries may potentially be a natural remedy for asthma and infectious diseases because they contain polysaccharides, which can activate our innate immune response to these conditions.
Acai can be purchased frozen, dried, as a juice, powder, or in food products; for example, acai bowls that are made from milk, fruit juice, nuts, fruit, oatmeal, and other ingredients. You might like to check out this acai bowl recipe for BBC Good Food for inspiration.
5. Green tea
The list of health benefits of green tea is extensive and research has shown that it can help to improve immunity.
Free radicals (unstable molecules that cause damage to cells) often target immune systems and signaling pathways, and can significantly limit communication between different areas of the body. But studies have found that green and black teas contain higher levels of antioxidants than any vegetable, which means they’re very effective at preventing damage by free radicals.
Green tea is available to buy on Amazon, supermarkets, and health food shops.
Turmeric – also known as ‘Indian saffron’ – has a long history of medicinal use, and research has shown that it has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antioxidant properties. This is all great news if you’re looking to boost your immune system. Even at lower doses, studies have shown that curcumin can improve antibody response.
For example, this animal study tested the antioxidant effects of turmeric among a group of rats exposed to high levels of mercury. It concluded that curcumin provided various defences against oxidative stress caused by mercury. It was also able to reverse the effects of mercury linked with kidney and liver damage.
For ideas on how to add more turmeric to your diet, you might like to try one of these 31 healthy recipes that are high in turmeric.
7. Sunflower seeds
Research shows that vitamin E can improve immune response and protection against several infectious diseases. Zinc is thought to play a role in the development and maintenance of well-functioning immune cells – helping to protect the body from inflammation, invading pathogens, and allergies. And, selenium can help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
This study linked consumption of sunflower and other seeds (like chia and hemp) five or more times a week with lower levels of inflammation. Experts believe this is why eating sunflower seeds is associated with a decreased risk of several chronic diseases.
Check out this list of 8 ways to use sunflower seeds from Epicurious, which includes adding them to bread, mixing them into granola, or using them as a topping for tacos.
Blueberries are a popular superfood, and experts believe they have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all common fruits and vegetables.
The main antioxidant compounds found in blueberries are called flavonoids, which studies show play an essential role in the respiratory tract’s immune system defence.
Researchers also found that people who ate foods rich in flavonoids were less likely to catch a common cold or upper respiratory tract infection than those who didn’t.
Blueberries are also rich in vitamin A, C, potassium, manganese, and dietary fibre, which all contribute to immunity. They make a great snack on their own but can also be added to smoothies or salads, or sprinkled on top of oatmeal.
Selenium, zinc, and B12 are powerful antioxidants which help to maintain optimal immune system function and protect the body from oxidative stress. Research shows that people whose diets are high in antioxidants may have a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and all-cause mortality.
For example, some studies suggest that zinc could help to decrease the length of time people suffer from symptoms of infections, like the common cold. Research also notes that the vitamin B12 found in oysters can help to maintain healthy red blood cells, which function as critical immune sensors.
10. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate might seem like an anomaly among other superfoods. But interestingly, research has revealed that a single serving of cocoa powder contains more antioxidants than most food and drink, including apples, cranberry juice, and black tea.
As a result, studies suggest eating or drinking chocolate that contains at least 50% to 70% cocoa improves blood flow, gut health, and eases stress – all effects that can contribute to a stronger immune system.
Research has also found that one of the antioxidants contained in dark chocolate, called theobromine, may help to boost the immune system by protecting the body’s cells from free radicals.
However, while dark chocolate offers many health benefits, it’s also high in calories, so it’s important to moderate your intake. For ideas on how to add it to your diet, check out these 21 healthier ways to eat chocolate from BuzzFeed.
Garlic has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. It contains various vitamins and minerals – including selenium, B6, and manganese – that improve immunity.
It increases the production of T-cells, which help to fight viruses, and, as a result, may help to reduce the number of colds a person gets by 63%, according to this study. The same study also noted that garlic reduced the average length of a cold by 70%.
Stress can weaken the immune system, but garlic has been shown to make the adrenal glands produce fewer stress hormones. It can help to fight fatigue too.
EatingWell has a range of healthy garlic recipes that you might like to try, with everything from honey garlic chicken to lemon-garlic pasta.
Whether consumed as tea, taken as a shot, or eaten with honey, ginger is an effective immune-system-booster.
For example, this study found that daily consumption of ginger may support the immune system, protect against disease, and support recovery from illnesses including the common cold or flu. Science also suggests that consuming ginger extract daily may lead to a stronger antibody response among nonsmokers.
Other research has found that ginger can effectively reduce various types of oxidative stress and help to prevent conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation, and cancer.
For inspiration on how to start cooking with ginger, you might like to check out this list of ginger recipes from BBC Good Food. There’s everything from braised beef with ginger to lime and ginger drizzle cake.
13. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, which is known to boost the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells.
Research has also shown that the vitamin A content of citrus fruits can enhance the immune response and functions, helping to ward off respiratory tract inflammation and infections.
Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, clementines, limes, and lemons are some of the most popular citrus fruits. They’re delicious on their own but are also great for making things like citrus smoothies or healthy citrus recipes.
Many varieties of yoghurt are rich in probiotics; which are good bacteria that support a healthy gut and immune system.
Studies have found that probiotics may be effective at fighting common colds and other respiratory infections because they increase the production of immune cells, strengthen the lining of the gut, and block the growth of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract.
This study even found that probiotics may be effective at reducing the duration of acute respiratory infections.
Yoghurt is also a great source of many other vitamins and minerals that can boost immune health including zinc, selenium, magnesium, and riboflavin.
When buying yoghurt, it’s worth choosing ‘live’ versions for maximum benefits. Live yoghurt, such as Greek yoghurt, contains active cultures and probiotics.
These 25 healthy Greek yoghurt recipes from Insanely Good are delicious, versatile, and certainly worth a try. You’ll find everything from tzatziki and healthy yoghurt bowls to smoothies and pancakes.
As research shows, what we eat has a significant impact on the health of our immune system. So, taking steps to increase your intake of immune-boosting foods is one of the best ways to improve your health; especially as we move into the colder months.
For more health tips, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website where you’ll find everything from healthy recipe ideas to essential vitamin and mineral guides.