Sick of feeling run down and constantly catching bugs?
Your immune system needs some love!
Below, we’ve got 10 scientifically-proven superfoods to boost your immunity, and 3 easy recipes to help you incorporate them into your daily diet.
From zesty citrus to spicy ginger, get ready to thrive with a stronger and healthier immune system, one superfood at a time.
10 Immune-Boosting Foods, According to Science
1. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes, are known for their high vitamin C content.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps the immune system by protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. It also plays a crucial role in the production and function of white blood cells, which help your body fight off infections.
One of the reasons why vitamin C is so important for the immune system is that it helps to enhance the production of collagen.
Collagen is a protein that serves as a building block for many parts of your body, including skin, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Having healthy skin is important because it serves as a barrier against pathogens entering your body.
To benefit from the immune-boosting properties of citrus fruits, it’s generally recommended to consume at least 75-90 mg of vitamin C per day for adults. One medium orange, for example, contains about 70 mg of vitamin C, while a medium grapefruit contains around 88 mg.
A fun way to incorporate citrus fruits into your meals is by adding a squeeze of lemon or lime to your water, making a citrus salad with oranges and grapefruits, or incorporating citrus fruits into your smoothies or juices.
It’s important to remember that consuming whole fruits is generally better than just drinking the juice, as whole fruits provide additional nutrients like fiber, which is beneficial for your overall health.
Garlic is a popular ingredient in many cuisines around the world and has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties.
One of the reasons garlic is believed to help boost your immune system is due to a compound called allicin.
Allicin is formed when garlic is crushed or chopped, and it has been found to have antibacterial and antiviral properties.
In addition to allicin, garlic also contains other compounds that support a healthy immune system. For example, it has antioxidants that help protect your body’s cells from damage. When your cells are healthy, they can better defend your body against infections.
To benefit from the immune-boosting properties of garlic, it’s generally recommended to include one or two cloves of fresh garlic in your daily meals.
You can easily do this by adding minced garlic to your favorite dishes, such as pasta sauces, soups, or stir-fries. Keep in mind that cooking garlic can reduce the amount of allicin, so it’s a good idea to add it towards the end of cooking to preserve its health benefits.
For example, in a stirfry, I like to add chopped garlic within 30 seconds of the dish being finished.
Yogurt is a fermented dairy product that is a good source of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that are found naturally in your gut but are also present in a variety of foods.
Michael Sugiura, owner, and acupuncturist at The Subtle Point, says:
“Probiotics are live microorganisms that benefit human health, particularly the digestive system. They can help maintain the balance of the gut microbiome, improve digestion, and support immune function”.
To get the most immune-boosting benefits from yogurt, look for products labeled with “live and active cultures.” This means that the yogurt contains live probiotics.
There are several kinds of yogurt, including Greek, SKYR, and Soya options, and each one is available in a range of flavors.
However, it’s a good idea to choose plain, unsweetened yogurt to avoid added sugars, which can be detrimental to your overall health. Authentic Greek yogurt is a great choice if you’re searching for a low-sugar, high-protein option.
You can enhance the flavor by adding your favorite fruits, nuts, a drizzle of honey, or some protein powder into your yogurt bowls.
A general recommendation for yogurt consumption is to have at least one serving (about 6 ounces) per day. This will provide you with a good amount of probiotics, vitamins, and minerals to support your immune system.
Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are known for their high antioxidant content.
Some of the key antioxidants found in berries include a group of compounds called flavonoids.
Flavonoids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation is a natural response of your immune system to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can weaken your immune system. Consuming foods rich in flavonoids, like berries, can help reduce inflammation and support a healthy immune response.
To reap the immune-boosting benefits of berries, it’s recommended to aim for at least half a cup of fresh or frozen berries per day.
You can enjoy them as a snack, add them to your yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies, or even use them as a topping for salads.
Almonds are a great addition to your diet for supporting your immune system.
One of the most important nutrients in almonds is vitamin E, which helps protect your body’s cells from damage
In addition to vitamin E, almonds are also a good source of healthy fats, particularly monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
These fats are essential for overall health and can help reduce inflammation in the body. As I mentioned before, chronic inflammation can weaken your immune system, so consuming foods with healthy fats can be beneficial for immune function.
To enjoy the immune-boosting benefits of almonds, aim for a serving of about 23 almonds (approximately 1 ounce) per day.
This serving size provides about 7.3 grams of protein, 14 grams of healthy fats, and around 37% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin E for adults.
You can snack on almonds throughout the day, add them to your oatmeal, yogurt, or salads, or even use almond butter as a spread on toast or in smoothies.
Ginger is a popular spice that has been used for centuries in various cultures for its medicinal properties.
One of the main active compounds in ginger is gingerol, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Ginger has also been found to have antimicrobial properties, which means it can help your body fight off harmful bacteria and viruses. This can be especially helpful in supporting your immune system during cold and flu season.
To benefit from the immune-boosting properties of ginger, you can incorporate it into your diet in various ways.
- Fresh ginger: Fresh ginger root contains the highest levels of gingerol, the active compound responsible for many of ginger’s immune-boosting properties. To use fresh ginger, you can peel and grate or mince it, then add it to your dishes, smoothies, or teas.
- Dried ginger (spice): Dried ginger, which can be used in cooking, has a slightly different flavor and potency compared to fresh ginger. The drying process converts some of the gingerol into another compound called shogaol, which also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties but is less potent than gingerol.
- Ginger supplements: Ginger is also available in supplement form, such as capsules, tablets, or extracts. These supplements can vary in potency depending on the concentration of active compounds, the manufacturing process, and the quality of the ginger used. If you choose to take ginger supplements, follow the manufacturer’s recommended dosage.
- Pickled or candied ginger: Ginger can also be found in pickled or candied forms. While these forms still contain some of the health benefits of ginger, they may also contain added sugars or preservatives that can offset some of the immune-boosting properties. It’s best to consume these forms in moderation.
Spinach is a nutrient-rich leafy green vegetable that can provide significant benefits to your immune system.
One of the primary immune-boosting nutrients in spinach is vitamin C. As we discussed earlier, vitamin C is essential for the production and function of white blood cells, which are crucial for fighting off infections.
In addition to vitamin C, spinach is also high in vitamin A, which plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of your skin and mucous membranes. These barriers are your body’s first line of defense against pathogens, so keeping them healthy is important for a strong immune system.
Spinach is also a good source of folic acid and iron. Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps the body produce and maintain new cells, while iron is a mineral that plays a key role in immune cell production and function.
To get the most immune-boosting benefits from spinach, you can enjoy it both raw and cooked.
When cooked, spinach releases more of its nutrients, making them easier for your body to absorb. Aim to include at least one serving (1/2 cup cooked or 2 cups raw) of spinach in your daily diet.
You can add spinach to salads, smoothies, omelettes, or use it as a base for a variety of cooked dishes.
Turmeric is a vibrant yellow-orange spice, and much like ginger, has many health benefits.
The primary active compound in turmeric is called curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties.
To enjoy the immune-boosting benefits of turmeric, you can incorporate it into your diet in various ways.
- Turmeric powder: For most people, consuming 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder per day can be a good starting point. You can gradually increase the amount up to 1 teaspoon daily if you don’t experience any adverse effects (some people experience stomach discomfort if taking too much).
- Fresh turmeric root: If you’re using fresh turmeric root, a general recommendation is to start with a small piece, about the size of a pea, and gradually increase the amount as tolerated. One inch of fresh turmeric root is roughly equivalent to 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder.
- Turmeric supplements: If you’re taking turmeric in supplement form, such as capsules or tablets, it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s recommended dosage, which typically ranges from 400 to 600 mg of standardized curcuminoids per day.
It’s important to note that curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body. However, combining turmeric with black pepper, which contains a compound called piperine, can significantly enhance curcumin absorption.
If you’re taking a turmeric supplement, then most companies will add black pepper extract into the blend. However, if you’re cooking with turmeric, simply add a pinch of black pepper to your recipe.
Also, curcumin is fat-soluble, so consuming it with a source of healthy fat, such as avocado, nut butter, or chia seeds, can help improve its absorption as well.
Broccoli is a versatile and nutrient-dense vegetable that offers a unique combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that work together to support your immune system.
A standout feature of broccoli is its high content of glucosinolates, which are natural plant compounds that can be converted into various health-promoting substances in your body.
For instance, when you chop or chew broccoli, glucosinolates are transformed into isothiocyanates. These isothiocyanates have been shown to support your immune system by promoting a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut.
Additionally, broccoli is rich in a group of substances called carotenoids. These carotenoids contribute to maintaining the health of your eyes and skin, both of which serve as physical barriers that help keep harmful bacteria and viruses from entering your body.
When it comes to incorporating broccoli into your diet, variety is key. You can enjoy it in numerous ways, such as steaming, sautéing, roasting, or even eating it raw. Aim to include at least one serving (about 1 cup) of broccoli in your daily diet.
You can add it to salads, stir-fries, soups, or casseroles, or simply enjoy it as a side dish with a healthy dip.
10. Green tea
Green tea is known for its numerous health benefits, including its ability to support the immune system.
One of the main components of green tea that contributes to immune support is a group of powerful antioxidants called catechins.
Among these catechins, the most abundant and potent one is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
EGCG has been shown to help fight infections by neutralizing harmful bacteria and viruses. This, in turn, helps your immune system function more effectively in defending your body against illness.
Green tea also contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been linked to the production of immune cells called T-cells.
T-cells play an essential role in identifying and attacking harmful invaders in your body. By supporting the production of T-cells, L-theanine in green tea can help enhance your immune response.
To reap the immune-boosting benefits of green tea, it’s generally recommended to consume 3 to 4 cups per day.
This amount has been shown to provide a good balance of catechins and L-theanine without causing any adverse effects for most people. However, individual tolerance may vary, so it’s important to listen to your body and adjust your intake accordingly.
When preparing green tea, avoid using boiling water, as it can destroy some of the delicate catechins.
Instead, use water heated to about 160-170°F (70-80°C) and steep the tea for 2-3 minutes.
This will help ensure you’re extracting the maximum amount of immune-boosting compounds from the tea leaves.
Nutritionist-Approved Recipes to Support Your Immune System
Here are 3 recipes to incorporate into your diet if you want to boost your immune system.
Citrusy Spinach and Berry Salad
This refreshing salad is packed with vitamin C from the citrus fruits and antioxidants from the berries, helping to support your immune system. The spinach adds additional vitamins and minerals, while almonds provide a crunchy texture and a boost of healthy fats.
- 4 cups fresh spinach
- 1 cup mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, and/or strawberries)
- 1 orange, peeled and sliced
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a large salad bowl, combine spinach, mixed berries, orange slices, almonds, and red onion.
- In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently to combine.
- Serve immediately.
Garlic-Ginger Turmeric Stir Fry
This flavorful stir-fry incorporates garlic and ginger, both known for their immune-supporting properties, along with turmeric for its anti-inflammatory benefits. The broccoli and bell pepper add extra vitamins and antioxidants.
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions
- Cooked brown rice, for serving
- In a large skillet or wok, heat coconut oil over medium heat.
- Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, and black pepper, and sauté for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
- Add broccoli and bell peppers to the skillet, and cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender but still crisp.
- Stir in soy sauce or tamari and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in green onions.
- Serve over cooked brown rice.
Immune-Boosting Green Tea Smoothie
This smoothie recipe is an easy way to incorporate green tea, which is rich in immune-boosting compounds like catechins and L-theanine. The addition of yogurt provides probiotics for gut health, while the spinach and fruit add extra vitamins and antioxidants.
- 1 cup brewed green tea, cooled
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup fresh spinach
- 1 banana
- 1/2 cup frozen mixed berries
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds or chia seeds
- In a blender, combine the cooled green tea, Greek yogurt, spinach, banana, frozen mixed berries, and flaxseeds or chia seeds.
- Blend on high until smooth and creamy.
- Pour into a glass and enjoy!
About The Author
Avi Silverberg is an author, coach, and the Founder of FeastGood.com. Avi has a Master of Science in Exercise Science and has published over 400 articles on the topics of health, exercise, and nutrition.