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Top 30 Foods to Support Immune Function: Dietitian-Approved Picks for Your Diet

Discover 30 nutrient-dense foods that can help support the body’s natural defenses, plus expert tips for your diet from a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Top 30 Foods to Support Immune Function: Dietitian-Approved Picks for Your Diet
In this article:
In this article:

Our diets have a significant impact on our overall health, influencing everything from mood to immune function. While many people search for the latest dietary fads, timeless and nutrient-rich foods remain a consistent ally in supporting a balanced immune response.

Drawing on the latest research, we’ve handpicked 30 foods known for their nutritious properties. By integrating these into your meals, you're not just treating your taste buds but also fostering wholesome eating habits to support your body's natural defenses.

The Bottom Line

  • Best Foods to Support Immunity - Learn about the foods that help optimize your health and assist in maintaining immune resilience. 
  • Top Nutrients to Aid in Immune Health - Discover the top five nutrients to look for in powders and whole foods to support your immune system.
  • Immune Wellness Expert Tips - Add tips to your daily routine that may contribute to immune balance, according to a dietitian. 
  • Why Super Greens - Learn how Super Greens can transform your daily nutrition routine in just one scoop.

Why Your System Needs Immune-Boosting

Your immune system is responsible for defending your body against germs and other microorganisms that cause illness. The more support and resources you can give your immune system, the better chance it has of preventing you from getting sick.

30 Best Foods to Support Immune System Health

Many foods can help your body’s natural defenses and support immune system function due to their nutritious properties. Here are some of our favorite superfoods to look for:

1. Ginger

Origin: Root of the Zingiber plant

Superpower: Anti-inflammatory

Key benefits: Ginger is an excellent ingredient to cook with and may also contribute to immune balance. According to studies, it has the potential to reduce inflammation and ease nausea. Use sliced or grated ginger to season food, or make ginger tea.

2. Blueberries

Origin: Fruit of bushy shrubs native to North America

Superpower: Anthocyanin (flavonoid)

Key benefits: Blueberries have a high concentration of anthocyanins, an antioxidant that has been shown to support overall health and immune function. The antioxidants in blueberries help fight free radicals, assisting the body in preventing cell damage and oxidative stress. 

3. Oranges

Origin: Citrus fruit (a hybrid of the pomelo and mandarin)

Superpower: Vitamin C

Key benefits: Oranges contain a very high level of vitamin C, a nutrient commonly sought after during cold and flu season. Getting enough vitamin C (and all other recommended vitamin and mineral levels) in your diet helps your body maintain its immune resilience. 

4. Walnuts

Origin: Seed of the Jaglans tree

Superpower: Zinc, iron, protein

Key benefits: Like most nuts, walnuts are a good source of protein, which supports daily energy levels and muscle maintenance, according to Mayo Clinic. These nuts also contain vitamin E and vital nutrients, such as zinc, iron, and potassium.

5. Salmon

Origin: Ocean fish (hatch and spawn in freshwater)

Superpower: Zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D

Key benefits: Wild salmon is an excellent source of zinc and vitamin D, which contributes to the body’s respiratory function. This fish is also filled with omega-3 fatty acids, a compound known to help maintain overall health. 

6. Red Bell Peppers

Origin: Fruit of the Capsicum annuum plant

Superpower: Vitamin C, beta-carotene

Key benefits: Oranges and citrus fruits might be associated with vitamin C, but red bell peppers have a higher concentration of this crucial nutrient. They also contain a generous dose of beta-carotene and vitamin A. 

7. Almonds

Origin: Seed of the Prunus amygdalus tree

Superpower: Vitamin E

Key benefits: Almonds contain vitamin E and, according to studies, may improve overall diet quality, suggesting the potential to support immune balance. They are also rich in protein and healthy fats that play a role in healthy nutrition. 

8. Green Tea

Origin: Leaves of the Camellia sinesis plant

Superpower: Catechin (antibacterial and antiviral)

Key benefits: Green tea is rich in catechin antioxidants, which can help maintain the body’s immune defenses and protect against cell damage. Catechins are also found in black tea, coffee, berries, and grapes. 

9. Broccoli

Origin: Brassica oleracea plant

Superpower: Sulforaphane

Key benefits: Sulforaphane, which is a chemical in broccoli, has been shown to boost the enzymes and antioxidant genes in some immune cells, helping to fight free radicals. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are also known for promoting several benefits due to their rich content of carotenoids and flavonoids. 

10. Garlic

Origin: Bulb of the Allium sativum plant

Superpower: Allicin

Key benefits: Garlic cloves are a good source of allicin and may play a large role in supporting immunity. Studies suggest that garlic has antibacterial and antioxidant properties, which promote numerous positive biological effects. 

11. Turmeric

Origin: Root of the Curcuma longa plant

Superpower: Curcumin (anti-inflammatory, antioxidant)

Key benefits: Turmeric gets its vivid orange color from curcumin, an active component that research shows may act as an antimicrobial agent and have immune response effects. 

12. Spinach

Origin: Leaves of the Spinacia oleracea plant

Superpower: Fiber, vitamin C

Key benefits: According to Cleveland Clinic, spinach is another excellent source of vitamin A and essential nutrients like beta-carotene, which nourish your body and promote immune resilience. Another benefit of spinach is the high fiber content it provides. 

13. Tomatoes

Origin: Berry of the Solanum lycopersicum plant

Superpower: Vitamin C, lycopene

Key benefits: Like oranges and bell peppers, tomatoes have high levels of vitamin C. Depending on the product and nutritional content, tomatoes may help support the immune system, promoting the production of T-cells and phagocytes. 

14. Yogurt

Origin: Milk fermented with bacteria 

Superpower: Probiotics

Key benefits: Yogurt has high levels of probiotics and good bacteria that promote digestive balance. Many immune cells live in the gut, so maintaining a healthy gut environment is crucial for the immune system. 

15. Dark Leafy Greens

Origin: Edible plant leaves (e.g., kale, Swiss chard)

Superpower: Vitamins C and E, flavonoids, carotenoids 

Key benefits: Kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and other dark leafy greens are high in vitamins C and E and antioxidants that may offer powerful immune support. They also contain iron, which helps balance energy levels, and a hefty dose of fiber. 

16. Kiwi

Origin: Berry of the Actinidia vine

Superpower: Vitamins C and E

Key benefits: Kiwi isn’t a citrus fruit, but it still contains high levels of vitamin C, dietary fiber, potassium, and other nutrients. Studies suggest kiwifruit may promote functional and metabolic effects, among other benefits. 

17. Avocados

Origin: Fruit of the Persea Americana tree

Superpower: Antioxidants, folate

Key benefits: Avocados are a popular superfood due to their potential health benefits and versatility. They provide a good dose of healthy fats and folate, which is a nutrient essential for proper growth and development. Avocados also contain generous doses of antioxidants.

18. Beans

Origin: Seeds of plants in the Fabaceae family 

Superpower: Vitamin B, fiber, zinc

Key benefits: Beans are an excellent vegetarian source of protein and offer a good amount of fiber. Studies show that beans may play a role in immune-related illness management, although more research is needed. Beans also provide other essential nutrients like potassium and magnesium. 

19. Pineapple

Origin: Fruit of the Ananas comosus plant

Superpower: Iodine, vitamin B, bromelain 

Key benefits: Pineapple is a tropical fruit packed with nutrients, including vitamin B, calcium, and potassium. It’s high in iodine, a trace mineral that can help promote healthy thyroid function, which is essential for overall health. Plus, it includes a powerful digestive enzyme called bromelain that helps break down food.

20. Raw Honey

Origin: Honey bees

Superpower: Antibacterial

Key benefits: Raw honey has been used for centuries to help relieve sore throats. It may act as a natural antimicrobial agent due to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide. Honey also contains a lot of calcium, magnesium, and iron, and it can promote skin and gut health. 

21. Oats

Origin: Seed of the Avena sativa grain

Superpower: Fiber, energy

Key benefits: Oats are delicious and can make it easy to maintain a balanced diet. According to one medical study, oats are high in dietary fiber, copper, zinc, and other nutrients that may play a role in the immune system’s response and function. 

22. Ginseng

Origin: Root of the Panax plant

Superpower: Energy

Key benefits: Ginseng has been used in Eastern medicine for centuries to improve overall health and aid the immune system. It can support healthy metabolism, and one study shows that it may reduce upper respiratory tract infections

23. Eggs

Origin: Poultry

Superpower: Vitamin D and amino acids

Key benefits: Eggs are packed with healthy nutrients, specifically vitamin D, which helps regulate the immune system. Eggs also contain complex dietary components that have been shown to aid in cell immunity and oxidative stress reduction

24. Sweet Potatoes

Origin: Root of the Ipomoea batatas plant

Superpower: Beta-carotene, vitamin B

Key benefits: As evidenced by their orange color, sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, which is a potent antioxidant. These root vegetables also provide fiber and complex carbohydrates, supporting regularity and overall health.

25. Dark Chocolate

Origin: Cacao pods

Superpower: Theobromine (antioxidant)

Key benefits: Dark chocolate has a high concentration of theobromine, an antioxidant that may alleviate coughing. One study showed that this nutrient could work as a cough suppressant for individuals with bronchitis, but further research is needed. 

26. Quinoa

Origin: Seed of the Chenopodium quinoa plant

Superpower: Vitamin B, protein

Key benefits: Quinoa is a whole-grain superfood rich in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. This grain is also a complete protein with all nine amino acids, which play a role in supporting immune system health. 

27. Sunflower Seeds

Origin: Seed of the Helianthus annuus plant

Superpower: Zinc, vitamin B

Key benefits: Sunflower seeds provide protein and omega-3 fatty acids. According to a study, they are also high in vitamin E, iron, and selenium, which all play a role in immune balance

28. Chicken Soup

Origin: Tried-and-true home remedy

Superpower: Anti-inflammatory, hydration

Key benefits: There’s a reason chicken soup is always recommended when you’re under the weather. This healthy soup provides good hydration as well as an anti-inflammatory effect. Some studies show that chicken soup can help mitigate upper respiratory symptoms

29. Fermented Foods

Origin: Lactic acid in sour foods (e.g., sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, pickled cucumbers)

Superpower: Probiotics

Key benefits: The fermentation process creates foods with a high amount of probiotics, which are “good” bacteria that support a healthy digestive system. Since the core houses many immune system cells, a healthy gut is essential for a robust immune system. 

30. Water

Origin: Chemical (H2O)

Superpower: Hydration

Key benefits: Staying hydrated can help the immune system do its job. All cells, including those in the immune system, need water to function correctly. When you’re sick, drinking enough water can help loosen mucus for faster recovery. 

Top 5 Nutrients to Support Immune System Health

Incorporating nutritious foods into your diet is important for helping your body maintain its natural defenses. With that said, supplements are an excellent way to ensure you’re getting your essential nutrients when you can’t prepare whole foods. Below are five nutrients to prioritize: 

1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a well-known vitamin, particularly for immune system support. It is found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, and broccoli and acts as a powerful antioxidant that may influence white blood cell production. White blood cells help produce collagen for skin, bones, and connective tissue and respond to immune system compromises such as infections.

Because the body cannot produce vitamin C on its own, it is critical to consume the recommended daily amounts, which range between 75 and 90 milligrams for most adults. While it is considered safe to exceed these doses, it’s best to consult a doctor to determine the proper amount based on your health. 

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is derived from the sun and plays an important role in maintaining the body's immune defenses, decreasing inflammation, and supporting bone health. While excessive sun exposure is harmful, moderate exposure with sunscreen allows the body to synthesize this vitamin. Like vitamin C, it can aid in the development of white blood cells, but some evidence suggests that vitamin D may also protect against respiratory tract infections. However, more clinical trials are needed to prove this conclusion. 

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and can also be found in some types of fish (such as salmon or mackerel), egg yolks, and fortified dairy products. Most people only require 600 to 800 international units (IU), and taking more than the recommended amount can potentially be harmful.

3. B Vitamins

B vitamins are a class of water-soluble nutrients that aid in immune system and overall health. Vitamins B6 and B12 are particularly beneficial for the immune system because they support regulatory T cells in the small intestine. Furthermore, B vitamins may assist with cell metabolism, energy production, and DNA and RNA synthesis. 

Whole grains, lean meats, nuts, seeds, and legumes are high in B vitamins. They interact, so getting all eight types is necessary to reap the full range of benefits. Because most adults are deficient in B vitamins, finding the right balance is critical for immune system support.

4. Zinc

Zinc is a nutrient that helps the immune system by promoting the growth of immune system cells. Zinc can also help protect the body from toxins due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which prevent free-radical cell damage. Zinc provides extra protection for the body’s tissue barriers, so getting the proper intake is crucial for an immune response. 

Whole foods are often the best sources of zinc, such as chickpeas, oysters, and pumpkin seeds. Most adults only need a mere eight to eleven milligrams daily, but the benefits of getting the right amount are evident.

5. Probiotics

Probiotics are living microorganisms that promote a healthy gut microbiome, which in turn, helps support the immune system and overall health. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most common kinds found in probiotic products, often fermented foods or yogurt. They are frequently used to promote digestive health, and probiotics may help reduce inflammation and enhance the body’s natural defenses.

If you don’t like yogurt, you can also find probiotics in kimchi, kefir, or sauerkraut. Or, you can get probiotics the easy way with a dietary supplement.

Dietitian Tips to Support Your Body’s Defenses

Modifying your diet to include nutritious foods isn’t the only way to support a healthy immune system. Here are some other great ways to promote immune wellness: 

  • Prioritize rest
  • Reduce your stress level
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Get in some movement or exercise every day
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Maintain a healthy weight

These actions can help your immune system stay in top shape. Of course, everyone is different, so what helps your immune system the best may differ from your friend, neighbor, or family member! 

How Super Greens Can Help

Super Greens

Thinking about planning all your meals around superfoods can feel overwhelming. At Live it Up, our goal is to make nutrition easy. With our top-quality greens powders, you don’t have to spend hours finding recipes, shopping for premium ingredients, or preparing food. Just add a scoop of Super Greens to a glass of water or your favorite beverage, and enjoy a tasty drink packed with nutrients. 

Super Greens includes natural ingredients without additives or sweeteners and tons of nutrients that may support your immunity and overall health. With a perfect balance of ingredients like chlorella powder, barley grass, and ginger root, this greens powder provides an easy way to bridge your nutritional intake gaps in one go!

FAQs About the Best Foods to Support Immune Function

Trying to incorporate nutritious foods into your diet to support immunity can feel overwhelming. Here are expert answers to some of the most common questions about immune-supporting foods. 

How can I boost my immunity in 30 days?

You can prioritize healthy habits, such as your sleep routine, diet, hydration, and exercise, but truthfully, there’s no magical strategy to “boost” your immunity. However, if you strive to live a balanced lifestyle and consume nutritious foods, you can support your body in naturally defending itself. 

What are the signs of a weak immune system?

If you frequently get sick during cold and flu season, it could signify that your immune system isn’t functioning at its best. Other possible symptoms of a compromised immune system can be digestive issues, fatigue, and slow healing from wounds; in all cases, consulting your doctor is best. 

How can I test my immune system?

One of the best ways to learn about the state of your immune system is to get a blood test from your primary care physician or healthcare provider. An allergist/immunologist can also test for and diagnose immunologic disorders. 

How can I boost my immune system in 24 hours?

If you want to give your immune system some extra support, focus on hydration, sleep, and stress reduction. Avoid drinking or smoking, and in some cases, consider speaking with your doctor if you’re unwell.

References


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