10 Foods to Boost Your Immune System

One of the best ways to stay healthy is by choosing an array of foods to boost your immune system. Eating healthy, antioxidant-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is an important part of maintaining good immune system health to help ward off infection and illness.

While no one food is a silver bullet for optimal immune system function, these have been studied for their potential positive effects on our immune systems.


Garlic on a cutting board

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Most of the clinical studies done on garlic's potential antibacterial and antiviral properties use concentrated extracts. However, historically, cloves of garlic have been used in food for an assortment of health-related reasons. If you enjoy garlic, it doesn't hurt to include it in your meals and it is possible that some of the health benefits seen from the extracts also translate to culinary uses.

Kid-friendly serving idea: Put lots of garlic into chicken noodle soup. Put some minced garlic into a Greek-style salad made with cucumber, tomato, and feta cheese.


Woman's hands chopping up mushrooms

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Mushrooms may be a potent weapon in warding off colds, flu, and other infections. Studies on fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms, and extracts have shown that mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, and reishi have antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-tumor effects.

Make it kid-friendly: Slice up some shiitake mushrooms and add them to a stir fry or omelet, use sauteed mushrooms as taco or burrito filling, or stir them into some miso soup.

Brightly-Colored Vegetables

Bell peppers on a countertop

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Carotenoids such as beta-carotene are important antioxidants that aid in immune system function. Carotenoids are present in bright yellow, orange, and red fruits and vegetables, although they can also be found in fruits and veggies that are mostly green.

It’s important to get a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors because various types of carotenoids are thought to work together to strengthen the body’s immune system.

Make it kid-friendly: Add roasted red peppers to pasta, offer multi-colored peppers for dipping into hummus, roast winter squash with cinnamon, and ginger.


Plate of toast with nut butter and fruit
Anjelika Gretskaia / Getty Images

These protein-packed powerhouses of vitamins and minerals are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids, and zinc.

Studies have shown a link between eating nuts and health benefits such as a lower risk of chronic disease.

Kid-friendly snack idea: Slather some all-natural pure nut butter on whole wheat bread or celery or an apple for an antioxidant-rich snack.


Oatmeal topped with blueberries

Marina Jerkovic / Picture Press / Getty Images

Berries are rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables that may work as antioxidants and prevent injury to cells.

One cup of strawberries contains as much as 100 mg of Vitamin C, which is nearly as much as a cup of orange juice. Dark berries such as blueberries are especially high in bioflavonoids. For an optimal immune system boosting effect, eat a bowl of mixed berries, or vary which berries you choose from day to day, rather than eating just one type.


Pan with fresh salmon and olive oil
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Omega 3 fatty acids and other healthy fats help increase the activity of white blood cells. There are a few different kinds of omega 3s. Oily fish contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Certain nuts and vegetable oils contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can only be acquired through foods. The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but it's more efficient to consume them in your diet.

Omega 3s may also play an important role in the production of compounds that regulate immunity in the body and help protect the body from damage from over-reacting to infections.

Pregnant women and young children should avoid high mercury fishes like king mackerel, tilefish, shark, and swordfish. See the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Food and Drug Administration fact sheet about mercury in fish.

The best way to get the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA is by eating fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel. You can also get these omega 3s through krill oil capsules or algae supplements (which is a vegan source). Other sources of the omega 3 fatty acid ALA: Flax seeds, flax oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts.

Kid-friendly serving idea: Make canned wild salmon into salmon salad sandwiches or add anchovies or sardines to pasta sauce. Add a few spoonfuls of flax oil to an antioxidant-rich berry smoothie, make chia seed pudding, or make a yogurt parfait with fresh berries, granola, and a sprinkling of walnuts on top.


Young woman eating piece of chocolate.
Kohei Hara / Getty Images

Here’s some happy news for chocolate lovers everywhere: Some studies indicate that cocoa and extracts of cocoa might positively affect various aspects of the immune system as well as act as a powerful antioxidant. As long as you keep the sugar and fat to a minimum, unsweetened cocoa and cocoa powder may play a role in immune system health.

The studies on cocoa are often done on extracts, although they often extrapolate the amount of extract used to a correlating amount of cocoa. Recent studies have also looked at cocoa as a whole and even dark chocolate.

Studies have shown that regular consumption of cocoa/extracts may reduce heart disease risk, help raise good cholesterol, and possibly reverse blood vessel damage in people with diabetes.

Make it kid-friendly: Add cocoa powder and mashed banana to oatmeal while it's cooking, or make avocado-cocoa pudding. Try cocoa in savory dishes mixed with spices such as chili powder. Or, the classic: Have a mug of hot chocolate made with cocoa powder, milk, and a bit of sugar.


Young girl eating yogurt out of a bowl

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When choosing yogurt, go for the style you enjoy the most. It's important to choose a variety that uses live and active cultures. If you opt for plain yogurt and add fruit, spices, and a little of your favorite sweetener, you will have a lower-sugar snack that's also loaded with calcium.

Studies have shown that the live cultures in yogurt such as lactobacillus can protect the intestinal tract against gastrointestinal illnesses and increase resistance to immune-related diseases such as infection and even cancer.

The beneficial live cultures in yogurt such as Lactobacillus acidophilus may help prevent colds and other infections or shorten their duration, although more research is needed.

Kid-friendly serving idea: Spoon some plain yogurt into a bowl with berries and drizzle honey over it for a potent immune system boosting snack. Add plain yogurt to a smoothie, use plain yogurt in place of sour cream, or make a yogurt parfait with fresh berries, granola, and a sprinkling of nuts on top.


Basket of persimmons
MelindaChan / Getty Images

Demonstrating good timing, these delicious fruits make their appearance right around cold and flu season. Persimmons are high in vitamins A and C, which are important for immune system function.

Just one medium persimmon has about half of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, which has been shown to play a key role in the regulation of immune cells.

  • Other great sources of vitamin A include: Pumpkins, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spinach
  • Other great sources of vitamin C include: Strawberries, papaya, kiwi, cantaloupe, oranges

Kid-friendly serving idea: Kids love a good presentation. Cut up some persimmons, strawberries, and kiwi or other fruit and arrange on a plate in a fun, pleasing display.

Poultry and Lean Meats

Woman sprinkling herbs into a bowl of stew

 Mint Images / Getty Images

Foods high in protein, such as lean meats and poultry, are high in zinc — a mineral that increases the production of white blood cells and T-cells, which fight infection. Other great sources of zinc are oysters, nuts, fortified cereal, and beans.

Kid-friendly serving idea: Simmer some chicken vegetable soup or minestrone soup for a hearty dose of immune system-boosting antioxidants.

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9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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