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10 Best Immunity-Boosting Foods (+ How to Use Them In Your Meals)

 

Keeping your immune system in tip-top shape is probably at the front of your mind right now, and the good news is, by making some healthy changes to your diet, you can start naturally supporting your immune system, starting today. Though there are additional ways to promote a strong immune system – like keeping stress levels under control, fitting in regular exercise, getting sufficient sleep, avoiding cigarette smoke, and going outdoors as much as possible – one of the best avenues for immune strength is nutrition.

So, what are "immune-boosting" foods? Though a variety of whole foods fall into this category, many of the foods that contain specific nutrients beneficial to the immune system are plant-based, including vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. The real key is to ensure your diet is as colorful as possible to get a variety of nutrients and support overall health - including immunity. 

So, what makes these foods so special? Many plant-based foods have been shown to have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which may help assist the body in warding off bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause sickness and infection.

In addition, many plant-based foods are loaded with compounds called antioxidants. Though you’ve indefinitely heard the word “antioxidants” thrown around as a “secret weapon” to staying healthy, you may not completely understand what they are or all of the places you can find them in your diet.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are compounds that have been studied for their protective effect on the body, by working to prevent damage to cells – which can occur from an excess of “unstable molecules” called free radicals. The body produces these free radicals as a reaction to internal and environmental pressures – but too many of them in your system may overload the body's natural disease-fighting potential.

One factor that may increase the production of free radicals is internal inflammation, such as from foods like sugar, heavily processed oils, and refined carbs. External sources can include air pollution, cigarette smoke and UV exposure. An excess of free radicals in the body can creates a situation of “oxidative stress”, an imbalance that may put the body at greater risk of illness.

Ready to naturally support the immune system by taking charge of your diet? Let’s look at 10 Incredible "Immune-Boosting" Foods, and how you can incorporate them into your meals this week…

10 Immunity-Boosting Foods to Start Eating Now

As you read this, remember that there isn’t one food that has “magical” immune-boosting powers over others. In contrast, a well-rounded, well-balanced diet, focusing on as many whole foods as possible, (including as many fresh fruits and veggies as possible) is key to getting a wide variety of nutrients and supporting optimal health. 

1) Oranges

sliced oranges close up

This first food is undoubtedly no surprise to you, as it’s a well-known fact that loading up on vitamin C is a surefire way to help support immunity.

Why? Not only is vitamin C an incredibly powerful antioxidant, it also can help the body produce blood vessels, muscle and collagen – supporting overall health.

Plus, making sure you're consuming foods that are rich in vitamin C can assist in avoiding a deficiency. And research shows that a vitamin C deficiency may increase the likelihood of getting an infection.

But the good news is, oranges are a tasty, versatile fruit that you can easily add into your daily meals (and even kids love them)!

Ways to incorporate oranges into your meals:

  • Yummy, family-friendly smoothie recipes like this Orange Creamsicle Shake
  • Squeezing some fresh orange slices into your water
  • Making a fruit salad using lots of fresh fruits, with a squeeze of lemon juice on top for extra citrus benefits

2) Grapefruit

sliced grapefruit close up

Next, though this is another citrus fruit that’s high in antioxidants, it’s typically ignored for more mainstream citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes and clementines – but packs a powerful health punch in its own right. 

Ways to incorporate grapefruit into your meals:

  • Enjoy some as a side to any breakfast
  • Toss some into a green smoothie for some tangy taste
  • Mix some sliced grapefruit, walnuts and coconut milk into your oatmeal

3) Bell peppers

fresh colorful bell peppers on a wooden background

Next, though oranges and other citrus fruits get all the praise when it comes to vitamin C, bell peppers (especially red ones) are an even better source of the nutrient! You can get 95mg, (or over 100% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin C), by snacking on a half cup of red pepper.

In addition, red peppers are also high in other nutrients, including vitamin A and lycopene. In fact, it’s one of the veggies highest in lycopene.

Ways to incorporate bell pepper into your meals:

  • Try this family-pleasing one pan fajita dinner
  • Chop up raw red pepper and add it to salads, chili, tacos or nachos
  • Include some red pepper in your next omelet

4) Unsweetened yogurt

yogurt in bowl wooden background

Next, moving away from plant-based foods for a minute, plain, unsweetened yogurt can be a powerful "immune-boosting" food. Not only is this type of yogurt a great source of vitamin D – which can help regulate the immune system and support the body’s natural defenses – but it also contains “live and active cultures” called probiotics.

Probiotics are health superstars. The gut, in particular, works to maintain a balance of bacteria, and probiotics may assist with this process.

Note that sweetened yogurts will not offer as many health benefits and in excess can be considered one of the foods that weaken the immune system, since they’re overly processed and packed with sugar.

Ways to incorporate yogurt into your meals:

  • Plain Greek yogurt makes a wonderful addition to a number of smoothie recipes
  • Top plain yogurt with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey
  • Add yogurt to your breakfast oatmeal bowl

5) Garlic

garlic on wooden spoon

Next, you might already recognize garlic as an "immune-boosting" food, and luckily it’s also a food that you probably use regularly to flavor many meals. Now to know why… Garlic contains sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin, which have been shown to contain immune-supporting benefits. However, research shows that consuming garlic as close to raw as possible may be best to reap the benefits.

Ways to incorporate garlic into your day:

  • Chop fresh garlic and keep in a bag in your fridge so you can easily toss it into meals during the week
  • Add fresh minced garlic to homemade salad dressings

6) Legumes

Various legumes on porcelain spoons

Next, legumes (including green peas, lentils and lima beans) are not only great plant-based sources of zinc – a mineral antioxidant – they also make great pantry staples, especially now. Typically, many people turn to seafood including shellfish, lean meats and milk for zinc but you can also find it in many plant-based foods.

In addition, legumes are also an amazing source of plant-based protein, especially peas. Getting enough protein is critical for overall health, as well as immune health, as protein assists the body in many vital functions.

Ways to incorporate legumes into your meals:

  • 310 Shakes contain 15g of plant-based protein, including pea protein, for a convenient way to consume this superfood
  • Use legumes as a main in meals, such as in lentil or pea soup
  • Toss cooked peas or lentils into salads or pasta salads, or add them to rice for a well-balanced meal

7) Mushrooms

Shiitake mushroom on wooden table

Next, another plant-based source of zinc is mushrooms. The fiber-packed veggie also contains B vitamins as well as selenium – which can support the immune system and assist with preventing damage to cells and tissues.

Mushrooms are also another great "immunity-boosting" food that’s easy to include in a lot of different meals, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Ways to incorporate mushrooms into your meals:

  • Add mushrooms into stir fries, pastas, soups or chilis
  • Add sliced raw mushrooms to the top of salads
  • Include mushrooms into egg scrambles, omelets or quiches

8) Berries

mixed berries

Next, when it comes to "immune-boosting" fruits, berries are the top of the line – and also make a wonderful addition to many different healthy desserts or snacks. Berries (including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries), are amazing sources of antioxidants – including anthocyanins and resveratrol.

Ways to incorporate berries into your meals:

  • Berries make one of the best additions to meal replacement shake smoothies. Try this Antioxidant Shake.
  • Add fresh berries to plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Dip berries into melted dark chocolate for a tasty dessert

9) Turmeric 

Fresh root and turmeric powder

Next, turmeric is one of the most commonly-studied herbs for it's anti-inflammatory benefits. The main active component in turmeric, curcumin, is an incredibly powerful antioxidant. Along with potentially helping to support the body’s defenses, this golden spice may also aid in digestion and potentially help relieve pain.

Ways to incorporate turmeric into your meals:

  • Try this tropical immunity-boosting shake recipe
  • Add turmeric spice onto your meats before cooking along with complementing spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger
  • Try a turmeric "latte" or tea

10) Sweet potatoes

raw sweet potato over old wood background

Finally, our last "immunity-boosting" food may actually be a surprise to you, (as something you wouldn’t typically have thought of on this list)! But sweet potatoes are not only a highly-functional food, but they also contain many wellness-enhancing properties.

For one, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, a plant-based compound that can convert into vitamin A within the body – supporting eye health, immunity, and more.

In addition, sweet potatoes contain fiber and additional antioxidants that can support gut health, and better protection against diseases.

Ways to incorporate sweet potato into your meals:

  • Try this sweet potato toast recipe for a healthy spin on traditional bread
  • Top baked sweet potatoes with peanut butter and cinnamon
  • Roast chopped sweet potato with olive oil and sea salt

 

Ready to add more "immunity-boosting" foods into your diet?! Start with the selections mentioned above, or try 310 Shakes as a fast and convenient way to get multiple "immune-boosting" foods into your meals at once. Learn more here

Written by:

Erika Fox

MBA, RDN - 310 Nutrition Community Manager

Erika Fox, MBA, RDN, is a Registered Dietitian and works as our 310 Community Manager, motivating thousands of individuals to reach their health goals every day! Erika strives to combine her nutrition expertise and business/marketing background to inspire others to adopt healthy habits on a larger scale. Her philosophy is [...]

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