Ten immunity-boosting foods
If you are looking to support your immune system naturally, you may be curious to know which foods you should be eating. The nutrients that keep our immune system strong include vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D as well as minerals such as copper, folate, iron, selenium and zinc. Foods containing these can help support the immune system, but the best way to stay healthy is to consistently eat a diet filled with these nutrients and everything else your body needs to stay strong and healthy.
1. Citrus fruits
When you think of Vitamin C, do you immediately think of an orange? Us too. That’s because citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, clementines and grapefruit are high in the vitamin which is linked to immune system health.
Vitamin C is considered one of the key vitamins associated with immune function and it is responsible for supporting various cellular functions of the immune system.
Guava is a tropical fruit typically grown in Mexico, the Caribbean, and parts of Central and South America. An exotic choice? Maybe, but just one cup of raw guava gives over 400% of your daily Vitamin C recommended intake and is one of the richest sources available (One orange is roughly 100% of your daily intake).
If eaten as part of a balanced diet there shouldn’t be any concern over too much Vitamin C. Although the daily recommendation for adults is only 40mg of vitamin C a day, you would need to take in large amounts (more than 1,000mg per day) to cause any side effects. It cannot be stored in the body, so be sure to include it in your diet daily to reap the health benefits.
I’m sure we have all heard how important it is to eat our greens and spinach is about as green as it gets. These leafy greens are packed with vitamin C along with antioxidants and beta carotene, which may help support your immune system.
Another green vegetable, this time that is also, this time high in Vitamin C. One cup of broccoli provides as much vitamin C as an orange. Broccoli offers a host of nutrients, including beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and B vitamins.
5. Nuts & Seeds
Certain seeds and nuts like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds are excellent sources of protein and vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect from free radicals, which can damage cells. Sprinkle a handful on your breakfast cereal each morning to give it a nutritional boost.
In many cultures and traditions, ginger is considered a staple in health and immune function. In Ayurveda, starting the day with ginger tea would be thought to boost the immune system, along with other high oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) herbs like cinnamon, cloves and turmeric.
As a root spice, ginger is loaded with nutrients such as vitamin B6 and dietary minerals like magnesium and manganese. It also has proven anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, potentially boosting immune function where it has been lowered by chronic inflammation and helping ward off illness.
A traditional, seasonal remedy – elderberry syrup has now made it onto the shelves at most high street health shops.
The berries and flowers of elderberries are loaded with antioxidants and may reduce inflammation, lessen stress, and help protect your heart. A study concluded that “in addition to its antiviral properties, Sambucol Elderberry Extract and its formulations activate the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production”.
8. Green Tea
Okay, this is a drink, not a food but it was worthy of mention due to its proven benefits for immune function.
Green tea is well known to be high in antioxidants, the key one here being high levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant that has been proven in studies to enhance immune function.
9. Probiotic Yogurt or Kefir
Gut health has been said to be responsible for 80% of our immune system, so it’s safe to say it’s a significant factor. Yoghurts with natural probiotics such as plain greek yoghurt will provide protein and natural probiotics without additional sugar.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink containing multiple cultures such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus kefirgranum, Lactococcus lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Kluyveromyces marxianus. These cultures improve the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut.
You may think it’s purely a comforting food to have a chicken soup when unwell, but chicken has high levels of Vitamin B12, providing over 100% of the RDI per 100g, along with Vitamin B6 and valuable protein.
Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of the immune system, supporting red blood cell production and getting the immune system all the oxygen it needs.
There are plenty of foods that you can include in your diet to ensure you get enough vitamin B12. Find out more about the importance of vitamin B12 and how to get enough through diet alone here, or check your current levels with our Vitamin B12 Home Test Kit.
Bone broth made by boiling the left-over chicken bones contains gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity.
Want to know more about eating for immune health?
For more information on the vitamins and minerals that can support healthy immune function, visit our guide: Can your diet choices boost your immune system?.