Best Foods to Boost Your Immune System

Avatar photo Staff December 12, 2018
citrus fruits

How many times do you find yourself saying, “I don’t have time to get sick!”?

With the holidays coming up fast, this statement holds more truth than ever, and keeping our immune system strong and responsive to fight off any “bugs” that come our way is crucial. Luckily, giving your immune system a boost is as easy as a trip to your grocery store.

“One of the most powerful tools we have to influence the immune system is the food we eat and the integrity of our digestive tract,” says Patricia DeAngelis, a family nurse practitioner and functional medicine practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine. “You are what you eat.”

Here are some of the best foods to eat to keep your immune system strong and healthy:

If you want to boost your immune system, Vitamin C is a great place to start. According to the National Institutes of Health, cells that fight off viruses, bacteria and the effects of toxins need optimal levels of Vitamin C to properly perform their task. While there is no evidence that Vitamin C can prevent or cure the common cold, research does suggest that the Vitamin C can reduce the length and severity of colds.

The good news is that Vitamin C is readily found in a bunch of delicious foods. Oranges (and other citrus fruits), of course, are famous for their Vitamin C content, with one orange providing 78% of your daily value. Other foods high in Vitamin C include spinach, kale, broccoli, cantaloupe, kiwi fruit, strawberries, blueberries, guava and black currants. Although bell peppers and tomatoes are also high in Vitamin C, DeAngelis doesn’t recommend them because they are part of the nightshade family of vegetables and increase inflammation.

There’s a reason your mom always told you to eat your broccoli. Not only is it high in Vitamin C (one half-cup has 58% of your daily value), but it’s also high in Vitamin A, which is emerging as a key player in the gut’s fight against foreign invaders (pathogens). Other important sources of Vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and chard, dairy products and eggs.

Another important element in a strong immune system is Vitamin D. Recent NIH research suggests Vitamin D supports key immune system cells just like Vitamin C, and is also important for fighting autoimmune diseases like Graves’ Disease and celiac disease. Salmon tops the list of foods that have a high Vitamin D content (you get 142% of your daily value in a 6 oz. portion). DeAngelis recommends buying wild-caught, smaller salmon caught in cold waters because they have a lower level of mercury than larger salmon. “Toxins definitely interfere with the immune system,” she says.

Other good source of Vitamin D include other types of fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as avocados, cheese and other dairy products, mushrooms, yogurt and eggs.

Almonds are packed with Vitamin E (1 oz. has 48% of your daily value), which bolsters immune system cells like phagocytes and T-cells, helping them fight off infection. DeAngelis recommends eating raw almonds instead of roasted because they are less inflammatory.

Other good sources of Vitamin E include vegetable oils like wheat germ oil and sunflower oil, peanuts, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts, along with broccoli and spinach.

Sweet Potatoes
Another important part of having a strong immune system is balancing the bacteria in your gut, and DeAngelis says sweet potatoes can help with that. “They feed the good microbes in the gut, which is associated with a strong immune system,” she says. She recommends buying organic, which can reduce the levels of toxins in your body.

Other foods that are good for your gut health include fermented dishes like sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha, as well as yogurt, raw almonds, sprouted seeds and nuts, artichokes, jicama, legumes, oats and honey.

Other things that can boost your immune system

Minerals like zinc, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and magnesium, along with trace minerals like iron, and selenium are all necessary for a host of body functions, with immune system health playing a key role. Mineral-rich foods for your diet include nuts, green leafy vegetables, beans, seeds, seafood, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, beef, fruit and tofu.

So get out there ASAP and eat all these foods! Your immune system will thank you for it.