5 Foods to Boost your Immune System

The top 5 best foods to boost your immune system and keep yourself healthy.

5 Foods to Boost your Immune System photo

Whether you’re feeling run down or you just want to boost your immune system as winter approaches, here are five key foods to add into your diet.

Immune-boosting superfoods

  • With a long history of traditional use as an anti-infection remedy, garlic contains multiple compounds that may have positive effects on the human immune system.
  • Research has found that allicin, found uniquely in garlic, has potent virus-fighting properties.
  • Garlic is easily found in supermarkets, keeps well in the fridge and can be added to a range of recipes.
  • Throw extra into your stir-fries, soups, chili, Bolognese, curry or stuff a chicken with fresh garlic and lemons.
  • Raw is even better – blend your own humus or gazpacho.
  • If you are prepared to go the whole (garlic) hog, whizz up garlic, ginger, lemon and honey to make a cold-busting tonic.
  • Known mostly for its anti-nausea properties, ginger also contains more than 100 compounds that are still being explored for their use in human health.
  • Gingerols and other substances in ginger have anti-microbial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Put chunks of peeled ginger in hot water with lemon to make your own warming and throat-soothing tea. Add honey to taste.
  • Grate ginger into curries and stir-fries or on top of stewed apple for a warming treat.
Red meat
  • This surprising addition to our list of immune-supporting superfoods is rich in the micronutrients zinc and selenium, both important to support good functioning of our immune response.
  • Red meat is also rich in protein, bringing a range of essential amino acids for the production of immune system cells and enzymes.
  • Cheaper cuts of lamb or beef can be braised in a slow-cooker with root vegetables to make casseroles, soups or stews. Throw in some green vegetables to increase the nutrient content – this is a good way to use up vegetables that are past their best. Slow cooking makes the meat and vegetables easier to digest and we get the added benefit of consuming the health-supporting minerals and gelatine released into the cooking juices.
  • Choose liver for even better immune support! Liver contains the zinc and selenium of other red meats but is also high in vitamin A, a key nutrient for immune support that can be hard to obtain in the diet in sufficient quantities. For those who like it, include a meal of liver and onions once a week. For reluctant liver-eaters, chicken livers have a milder liver taste and can be fried up and blended with bacon and onion to make a paté.

Colourful plants
  • Fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamin C, the body’s number one antioxidant. Vitamin C supports the production of white blood cells that fight infection but, as it is a water-soluble vitamin, we don’t store it in our body. It is therefore important to eat some vitamin-C-rich foods every day.
  • Most fruits, but especially citrus fruits and berries, are high in vitamin C.
  • Vegetables are also good sources of this vital nutrient. Include colourful vegetables such as peppers and team them with something green, such as broccoli for an extra supply of immunity-supporting vitamins and minerals.
  • Fruits and vegetables also contain important plant compounds –polyphenols – that are highly effective at boosting the body’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory processes. In fact, polyphenols not only help us to fight infection but they also help to modulate our immune response to prevent ongoing inflammation or progression to autoimmune conditions. Look for strongly-coloured fruits and vegetables, especially dark red or purple produce such as berries and dark green leafy plants such as cavolo negro or kale.
Green tea
  • Green tea is rich in antioxidant compounds and, in particular, contains the immunity-supporting substance epigallocatechin (ECGC).
  • Green tea’s L-theanine also supports the immune system’s infection-fighting T cells.
  • As green tea contains caffeine, it can be over-stimulating and affect sleep and energy levels. Choose a decaffeinated variety and only drink it before 2 pm.

Anh, N.H., et al., 2020. Ginger on Human Health: A Comprehensive Systematic Review of 109 Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 12(1).

Derbyshire, E., 2017. Associations between Red Meat Intakes and the Micronutrient Intake and Status of UK Females: A Secondary Analysis of the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Nutrients 2017, Vol. 9, Page 768, 9(7), p.768.

Kelly, B. and Pearce, E.L., 2020. Amino Assets: How Amino Acids Support Immunity. Cell Metabolism, 32(2), pp.154–175.

Lissiman, E., Bhasale, A.L. and Cohen, M., 2014. Garlic for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Rahman, I., Biswas, S.K. and Kirkham, P.A., 2006. Regulation of inflammation and redox signaling by dietary polyphenols. Biochemical pharmacology, 72(11), pp.1439–145.

Venâncio, P.C., et al., 2017. Antimicrobial Activity of Two Garlic Species (Allium Sativum and A. Tuberosum) Against Staphylococci Infection. In Vivo Study in Rats. Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 7(1), pp.115–121.

Yahfoufi, N., et al., 2018. The Immunomodulatory and Anti-Inflammatory Role of Polyphenols. Nutrients, 10(11).