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Eat These 5 Foods to Bolster Your Immune System

Eat These 5 Foods to Bolster Your Immune System

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If you want to stay healthy, try eating more of these foods

Before you cough up another co-pay, try revamping your diet.

Sweet potatoes have double immune-boosting power thanks to vitamin C and beta-carotene (an antioxidant that our body converts to vitamin A); both vitamin A and vitamin C are believed to support healthy immune system function.

Get rid of germs before they can make you sick; laboratory test results show that garlic has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties, giving it some serious infection-fighting potential.

Oats are a good source of beta-glucans (naturally occurring sugars) that have been shown to promote a strong and healthy immune system. If you don’t like oats, try barley instead; it’s also a good source.

When you’re choosing a yogurt, select one that contains live and active cultures (or “good” bacteria). The good bacteria that the probiotics support can have a positive impact on many aspects of your body’s immune response.

Mushrooms are a good natural source of selenium, an antioxidant that strongly influences immune response. Cremini and shiitake mushrooms are among the most selenium-rich.

Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.

Boost Your Immune System With These Expert Tips (and Recipes!)

A healthy immune system is important throughout the year, but even more so during cold and flu season and while we remain at-risk of contracting COVID-19. In honor of National Nutrition Month, celebrated in March, we tapped into campus experts in health and nutrition to gather tips for bolstering your immune system while we await warmer days ahead this spring.

When It Comes to Food, Prioritize Variety and Balance

Eating a diverse and well-balanced diet can help ensure we get the array of vitamins and minerals our immune system needs to function well. “When looking for recipes that support immunity, think color!” says Gail Grozalis, executive director of wellness in the Office of Human Resources. “Eat the rainbow—fruits and veggies that are red, purple, orange, deep greens and yellow tend to be high in antioxidants and will help strengthen your immune system.”

Focus on a reasonable balance of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) to ensure you’re not depriving your body of anything it needs to rebuild, repair and fight off infection. To take things to the next level, Grozalis recommends incorporating fermented foods (e.g., homemade kraut, kimchi, pickles and yogurt) into your eating plan, and limiting sugar and processed foods—both of which can create inflammation in the body, weakening the immune system.

Nutrients of Interest

Many of us intuitively reach for the orange juice or crave warm chicken soup when we feel a cold coming on. This could be because our body is craving certain nutrients that can help boost immunity.

According to Ruth Sullivan, assistant director of nutrition management in Food Services, there are several nutrients that play a role in good immune system health. “Protein is important for healing and recovery—I recommend lean proteins like poultry without the skin, sirloin and tenderloin, beans and tofu,” she says. Vitamin A (found in citrus fruits, spinach, carrots and squash), Vitamin C (citrus fruits, broccoli, bell peppers) and Vitamin E (almonds, oils, avocados) help protect against infection and form antibodies and antioxidants. Zinc (chicken, cashews, spinach) can also be important to wound healing, says Sullivan.

Lifestyle Choices Matter

While eating healthful foods is an important foundation, other lifestyle factors can also impact immunity. Grozalis recommends getting adequate sleep—between seven and nine hours on a consistent basis—to support the immune system.

Sullivan emphasizes the importance of regular exercise, staying tobacco-free, managing stress and maintaining a healthy body weight. “We want to think about everything that plays a role in keeping our immune system healthy, not just food,” she says.

5 foods to boost your immune system

You can’t beat the meat platter at Killen’s Barbecue for protein.

Kimberly Park / Kimberly Park Show More Show Less

For probiotics, try a fermented dish, such as yogurt with peach, hazelnut and coconut caramel.

Santiago Mejia, Staff / The Chronicle Show More Show Less

Gulf red snapper is a source of zinc.

Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

The five-meat platter including beef brisket, pork ribs, sausage, turkey and a beef rib at the new Pappas Delta Blues Smokehouse in Webster Thursday Jan. 11,2018. (Dave Rossman Photo)

Dave Rossman, Freelance / For the Chronicle Show More Show Less

Sliced oranges are a great source of vitamin C.

While everyone is talking about the coronavirus COVID-19, we need to remember that influenza is a more immediate threat here in the United States.

Here are five foods to be sure to incorporate in your diet so that you have the strongest immune system this flu season.

1. Vitamin C: This probably comes to no surprise to you, but it is important to get enough of this immune-boosting vitamin. By ingesting up to 1 gram daily of vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, you may be able to shorten the length of a cold or flu. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant and essential for collagen and other protein synthesis within the body. Most fruits and vegetables contain some amount of vitamin C, but your best sources are citrus fruits, asparagus, cantaloupe, strawberries and kale.

2. Zinc: Personally, I am a believer in taking zinc (and drinking Emergen-C) at the first onset of a cold. Anecdotally, I think it shortens my cold and lessens the severity of my symptoms. I practice what I preach. Zinc is found in the human body in all organs, tissues and body fluids. Some if its physiological roles include cell growth, cell membrane integrity, bone formation, skin integrity, cell-mediated immunity and generalized host defense. The best food sources of zinc are red meats (particularly organ meats) and seafood. Whole grains and leafy root vegetables are good plant sources of zinc. You can also take a zinc supplement however, it is important to follow the guidelines on the bottle, as there are side effects of taking too much zinc.

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3. Vitamin E: It&rsquos main function in immune health is as an antioxidant that rids your body of those damaging free radicals bouncing around your system. Think of free radicals as bulls in a china shop destroying things left and right. Antioxidants are like the repairmen that capture the bull, and then help to repair whatever the free radicals destroyed. Vitamin E is found primarily in plant foods, but best sources are in oils from plant foods such as canola and safflower oil. Nuts and peanut butter are also good sources of vitamin E.

4. Probiotics: There is growing evidence to support the assertion that a healthy gut promotes a healthy immune system. One way to keep a healthy gut, or gastrointestinal tract, is to be sure you are eating enough probiotics. These are foods that contain live or active cultures of specific bacteria that are thought to actually keep your gut healthy. They include yogurt, cheese and other fermented foods and now beverages like kombucha. While the exact mechanism for how probiotics support immune function is not known, what we do know is that probiotics are thought to enhance the body&rsquos immune defense system by increasing secretion of antibodies preventing bad bacteria to colonize in your gut and enhancing lymphocyte cytokine responses. What can really help your gut bacteria flourish is ensuring you are eating enough prebiotics, or foods that help feed probiotics, such as fruits and vegetables. Probiotics is a growing field of interest in the nutrition community, not only for gut health but also for weight loss.`

5. Protein: I saved the best for last and cannot preach about protein enough. It is so important on so many levels for us to eat enough protein throughout the day. Most of the protein found in our body is in our skeletal muscle or about 40% over 25% is found in our organs and the rest in our skin and blood. In fact, we have an entire group of proteins in our blood called immunoproteins, also known as immunoglobulins or antibodies. That&rsquos right, our antibodies, the ones that fight off disease, bacteria and viruses, are made of protein. So, if you aren&rsquot getting enough through your diet, your body can&rsquot make enough antibodies to help you fight whatever germs you pick up throughout the day. The main protein food sources are meats and seafood, so chicken, poultry, fish and shellfish. However, you can also get a good amount of protein from eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese.

Keep yourself protected this flu season by eating for a healthy immune system.

Sun-Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta With Chicken

Lycopene, the signature antioxidant in tomatoes, is known for reducing inflammation — an important part of disease prevention. Plus, high levels of vitamin C found in the red fruits help protect against damage from free radicals, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Almonds (used to make the pesto sauce) are abundant in vitamin E, which helps keeps immune cells fit. Meanwhile, high protein content from the chicken helps regulates the body's immune response by activating defender cells and producing antibodies.


  • 1¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (dry, not oil-packed)
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to ½-inch thickness
  • ½ tsp. dried basil
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil


  1. Throw tomatoes, almonds, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic into a food processor. Blend until nearly smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set pesto sauce aside.
  2. Boil a large pot of water and start cooking the spaghetti.
  3. For the chicken, season both sides with basil, oregano, salt, pepper and garlic powder.
  4. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil over medium-high heat.
  5. Add seasoned chicken and cook each side for about four minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Assemble individual plates of spaghetti, pesto and chicken. Serve immediately.

23. Orange Turmeric Booster Shot

Ginger turmeric shots with lemon, cayenne, and orange are the perfect booster shot for any time to boost your immune system. Made with other powerful ingredients orange juice, turmeric, ginger, cloves, lemon verbena leaves, cinnamon stick with a touch of honey. These wellness shots have powerful anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties!

Foods to Avoid

Of course, there are also foods you will want to avoid as much as is possible in order to maintain a healthy immune system. As with anything, you don’t necessarily have to cut these foods out of your diet entirely, but they should be kept to an absolute minimum and enjoyed as an occasional treat. Among other things, the following foods might increase inflammation within the body, provide too much sugar and send your immune system function in the opposite direction that you would like. The foods that you should try to avoid are:

Your immune system is a vital part of your body that detects and fights of infection and illness through the use of white blood cells. When this system is working well, you will likely notice a decrease in conditions such as the common cold or stomach flu (although you’ll never be able to avoid these completely.) However, if your immune system is not at its best, you will be unable to fight off these types of infections as easily.

By including these top 10 foods to boost your immune system, you might be able to help your immune system to become stronger, more responsive and therefore more effective. Which ones are your favorites?

Increasing your vitamin C intake is one of the easiest ways to boost your immune system. It is essential for helping to ward off sickness and promote a healthy immune system. Vitamin C is also required for the growth and repair cells, assists with nutrient absorption, wards off premature aging, strengthens hair and nails, and even has an impact on our mood and energy levels! Try this juice recipe!

Take the stress out of cooking with 21-days of guided meal plans, shopping lists, and nutrition support. You’ll find all of this, and more, in our signature Clean Eating Program.

Alongside being a qualified nutritionist and our social media guru, Rachel is Food Matters’ Recipe Developer. She’s forever dreaming up and developing new recipes for the community to enjoy.

We're often told that there are certain foods we should try to eat less of. But what if the real key to nourishing our bodies is actually to add to our diets?

Well, Dr. William Li, internal medicine physician, research scientist and author of Eat To Beat Disease, has some good news for us.

"Food is a powerful tool when it comes to our health," Dr. Li tells Rach. "While we use medicines to treat disease, food can prevent diseases in the first place."

He tells us that our health is constructed from five defense systems, which work together to keep our bodies strong and protected.

According to Dr. Li, research shows that there are specific foods you can implement in your diet to improve these defenses and help you maintain your health.

The doc is breaking down the five systems and sharing his suggestions of the best food to eat for each category &mdash some of which might surprise you!

1. SOY boosts angiogenesis.

"Angiogenesis is how our bodies grow blood vessels," Dr. Li says. "That's our circulation &mdash it brings oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body."

The doc's number one food for angiogenesis? Soy!

Soy has gotten a bad reputation in the past, he continues, because some people think that the plant estrogen in it can cause breast cancer &mdash but this is not true, Dr. Li says.

"Human estrogens can fuel breast cancer, but plant estrogens in fact counter human estrogen," according to the doctor.

This means that soy can actually help prevent cancer, he says. Research shows you need 10 grams of soy protein a day, which is the same amount you get from one 8 ounce glass of soy milk, according to Dr. Li.

If you don't like soy milk, you can try tofu, tempeh or even soy yogurt.

2. DARK CHOCOLATE improves regeneration.

"Science is now saying we can regenerate from the inside out, through our stem cells," Dr. Li explains. "My favorite food for this defense system is dark chocolate."

Research has shown that you can actually drink dark chocolate as hot cocoa. As long as it's 70% dark chocolate (or higher), melting it down and mixing with the milk of your choice is good for you, according to Dr. Li.

"If you drink two of these a day, it will actually double the number of stem cells in your bloodstream, which improves regeneration," Dr. Li says.

3. PUMPERNICKEL + SOURDOUGH BREAD support the microbiome.

"It's the healthy bacteria in our body &mdash 39 trillion bacteria that boost our immune system, decrease inflammation and even help fight cancer," the doc claims.

His number one food for the microbiome is. bread! (Certain kinds, of course.)

Pumpernickel bread is made with rye, which Dr. Li says contains a natural substance that helps decrease harmful bacteria that can create toxins.

Also, according to Dr. Li, sourdough bread is made with a healthy bacteria that not only boosts your immune system, but also causes our brains to release oxytocin (a.k.a. the feel good hormone).

4. KIWI aids in DNA protection.

You've probably heard of DNA (a.k.a our genetic code), but you probably don't know that DNA is a health defense, too.

"It protects us against the assaults from the environment," Dr. Li says. What does this mean? Well, our DNA can protect itself from damage &mdash such as from the sun's UV rays or from exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke, he explains.

The doc's number one food for DNA protection? Kiwi!

"Research has shown that eating one kiwi a day can reduce the impact of DNA damage," he says. And if you eat three of them a day, it helps DNA fix and rebuild itself, according to the doctor.

5. MUSHROOMS help build immunity.

Our immune systems help us fight infection, and even diseases like cancer, Dr. Li says.

"My number one food for activating immune defenses is mushrooms," he says.

Shiitake, button, chanterelle, oyster &mdash it doesn't matter! According to the doc, all mushrooms contain a natural compound called beta glucan, which activates the immune system.

Dr. Li says research also shows that while the mushroom cap is good for you, the stem of the mushroom is even better &mdash it has twice the amount of beta glucan! So the next time you have mushrooms, eat the caps and the stems, he suggests.

"Five defenses, five foods, and on average we eat five times a day &mdash breakfast, lunch, dinner and a couple of snacks," Dr. Li says.

"It's easy to get our 5 by 5 in there!" Rach says.

We'll toast to that &mdash with a glass of red wine, which Dr. Li says also activates our health defense systems!

Maintaining our health is top of mind right now. So along with keeping your medicine cabinet properly stocked, your kitchen should also be stocked with food to help support a healthy immune system. Studies have shown one of the main immune-strengthening nutrients is zinc, and since our bodies don’t produce it naturally, it’s time to eat up.

Join Nutritionist Bella Grace as she shares her top 5 favorite foods that are delicious, rich in zinc, and great for boosting immunity.

Bella Yon

Isabella Yon is an experienced Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and recipe developer with an extensive background in the health and wellness industry. Isabella has helped many clients achieve their wellness goals using a multi-pronged approach specifically tailored to the individual. Isabella is passionate about helping others fall in love with a healthy lifestyle and achieves this through creating simple, delicious, and nutritious recipes. To date, Isabella has created over 1000 unique recipes designed for both health and happiness. Through these tried and tested real food recipes, customized protocols, healthy living tips, and her joy-filled approach, Isabella encourages others to live, love, and thrive at their fullest health potential. Isabella has been featured on FOX News, Channel 4, and E4. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, is certified through the Nutritional Therapy Association, and is currently completing her Doctorate in Clinical Nutrition.

Here's Exactly What to Eat to Boost Your Immune System During Cold & Flu Season

Blueberry almond pancakes? A papaya smoothie? Don't mind if we do!

Cold and flu season is in full swing. Cough drops? Check. Tissues and hot tea? All set. And of course you&rsquore washing your hands on the reg to avoid getting sick in the first place. But something else can help you ward off the sneezes or recover faster if you do get sick: what you eat. Certain foods support a healthy immune system thanks to specific nutrients, and when you combine them, their immunity-boosting powers get even stronger. Load up on these powerhouse picks to ward off those colds this winter!

Did you know that your gut houses an estimated 70% of your immune system? That&rsquos why it&rsquos important to feed it foods that keep it happy, like yogurt and fermented fare such as kefir, says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., nutritionist and founder of bacteria in these may help keep gut bugs in balance. Adding turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, may help boost your immunity further.

Try Savory Yogurt Dip:
Combine 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest plus 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 scallion (finely chopped), 1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint, 1/2 tsp ground turmeric, 1/4 tsp salt, and pinch pepper. Serve with cucumbers for dipping.

The tropical fruit is loaded with vitamin C, which functions as an antioxidant to help keep your immune system strong. Pair it with cinnamon, another antioxidant, for an extra infection-fighting punch, suggests Shaw.

Try Papaya Smoothie:I
n a blender, puree 4 cups papaya cubes (frozen), 1 banana (cut up and frozen), 11/2 cups light coconut milk, and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon until smooth.

Oranges are touted as vitamin C superstars, but red bell peppers deserve that title because they&rsquove actually got more. &ldquoA medium one has nearly double your daily recommended value,&rdquo Shaw says. Vitamin C supports the production of white blood cells, which your immune system deploys to help fight sickness-causing intruders, and garlic can amp things up&mdashthis flavor enhancer has long been used in naturopathic medicine to help fight infection.

Try Garlic-Marinated Peppers:
Quarter 2 large red bell peppers lengthwise and discard seeds. Arrange, skin side up, on a baking sheet and broil until blistered and blackened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and let sit 5 minutes, then use a paper towel to remove skins. In another bowl, whisk together 1 Tbsp each sherry vinegar and olive oil, 1 garlic clove (pressed), and ½ tsp each salt and pepper. Cut red peppers into pieces and toss with vinaigrette let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Berries in the produce aisle are cultivated, not wild (and winter isn&rsquot their season), so head to the freezer for the wild kind, says Shaw. (Try Wyman's of Maine) All blueberries are antioxidant-rich, but wild ones are higher in anthocyanins, the antioxidants that give them their pretty blue hue. Pair them with almonds, another potent antioxidant, for double the boost.

Try Almond Blueberry Pancakes:
In a blender, puree 3/4 cup almond milk, 1/4 cup almond butter, 1 banana, and 1 cup just-add-water pancake mix. Fold in ½ cup wild blueberries. Heat a nonstick skillet on medium-low. In batches, cook spoonfuls until bubbling around edges and golden brown on bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook 2 minutes more. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat.

It&rsquos time we gave kale&rsquos equally nutritious cousin some love. These dark leafy greens have a peppery taste and are packed with antioxidants. Pair them with whole grains, which research suggests may support a healthy gut and immune system.

Try Mustard Greens Grilled Cheese:
Spread 1 tsp Dijon mustard on 2 slices whole-grain sourdough bread. Layer ¾ cup chopped mustard greens and 1 oz grated Gruyère on 1 slice, then top with the other, mustard side down. Place in a large skillet coated with cooking spray and cook until it&rsquos golden and crisp, cheese melts, and greens wilt (about 4 minutes on each side).

Studies suggest that pomegranate juice has antioxidant power stronger than that of green tea or red wine, and if you eat the arils (we love POM Wonderful) you get a dose of gut-happy fiber. Don't let cauliflower's bland look fool you&mdashit's actually super high in vitamin C.

Try Cauliflower Pomegranate Arugula Salad:
In a large bowl, whisk together 2 Tbsp each cider vinegar and olive oil stir in ¼ cup each golden raisins and roasted chopped almonds and 2 scallions (thinly sliced). On a rimmed baking sheet, toss 1 head cauliflower (quartered and sliced ¼ in. thick) with 2 Tbsp oil and ½ tsp each salt and pepper roast at 425°F for 25 minutes. Transfer to bowl with dressing and toss to coat. Fold in 2 cups baby arugula and 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds.

With a mild licorice-like taste, this veggie delivers a dose of immune-supporting vitamin C&mdashdouble your dose by pairing with pears.

Try Roasted Fennel and Pears:
On a rimmed baking sheet, toss 2 medium red onions, 2 Bartlett pears, and 2 fennel stalks (all cut into 1-in. wedges) with 2 Tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast at 400°F, stirring once, until golden brown and tender, 35 to 45 minutes.

Oats are rich in a type of fiber called beta-glucan, which has been shown to have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Several studies have found that the fiber, also found in mushrooms and barley, may increase the body&aposs immune response specifically to upper respiratory infections.

Oysters are an excellent source of selenium, a micronutrient that helps the body produce cytokines (proteins that help the body fend off viruses). If you don&apost like oysters, shellfish such as lobster, crabs, and clams are also rich in selenium.