Foods That Boost The Immune System



Foods That Boost Immunity

Certain foods have the exact nutrients that can help boost immune systems to be as strong as possible, so when they are exposed to the inevitable germs, they are ready to fight. 

While I can’t promise that you won’t get sick, you can absolutely build up your immune system with nutrient-dense foods.  Reconsider stocking up on ramen noodles, sodium-packed canned soups, and boxes of macaroni and cheese, which are void of nutrients and won’t help protect you from illness.

Rather, head to the produce aisle or frozen food aisle and choose nutrient-dense fruits, veggies, and whole raw nuts and seed which are packed with immunity-boosting properties that can help prevent illness or shorten the duration of a cold or flu.

I can personally attest to giving my family a morning shot of a power green smoothie every day and seeing them go through cold and flu seasons untouched, or with minor colds that disappear quickly.

These are the foods you want to be serving your family all year long so they are constantly building their immune systems.   See tips below from Registered Dietician, Jessica Smith for ways to incorporate these foods into your diet. 



Almonds are packed with vitamin E and manganese, a strong immune-boosting duo that enhances natural killer cell activity.  A hand-full of almonds each day is sufficient and provides the nutrients you need.  See below for a great recipe using almonds.

Embrace Mother Nature with these tasty and protein-packed Nature Bars! With almonds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, sunflower seeds and so much more, these bars are perfect for a quick morning bite or an afternoon snack.  Get the recipe here.

RD Tip: Make your own trail mix using almonds, dried unsweetened fruits, and dark chocolate or throw a bag of almonds into your lunch bag to add to yogurt, oatmeal, and salads at work. It’s so simple to include almonds in your daily routine!


Citrus Fruits

Packed with vitamin C, citrus fruits help increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infection.  Adding vitamin C through eating citrus fruits helps build up the immune system.

Popular citrus fruits include:

  • grapefruit
  • oranges
  • tangerines
  • lemons
  • limes
  • clementines

This Kale Farro Citrus Salad combines kale, mandarin oranges, farro with olive oil and pumpkin seeds for a great immunity boosting meal.

Toss this together in ten minutes if you’ve already cooked the farro! Colorful and bursting with flavor, our Kale Farro Citrus Salad delivers as a side or an entrée. Enjoy immediately or pack in a mason jar and take it to go.  Get the recipe here.

RD Tip: Limonene is a compound found in the peels of various citrus fruits that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Try adding sliced citrus fruits with the peel-on to your water for a delicious infused water that may also help to strengthen immunity. Another great way to reap the benefits of limonene is by adding grated citrus peel to smoothies, salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.




Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as many other antioxidants and fiber, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your table. The key to keeping its power intact is to cook it as little as possible — or better yet, not at all.

Check out this recipe for a high-protein pasta salad that calls for broccoli, whole wheat pasta, lean protein like chicken or fish and hard-boiled eggs and Greek yogurt.  Or make a family favorite – chicken and broccoli mac and cheese.

RD Tip: Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family. Cruciferous vegetables are chock full of a number of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, as well as plant compounds called phytonutrients that are known to be anti-inflammatory.

DID YOU KNOW studies have shown that cutting broccoli into small pieces and letting them sit for up to an hour or longer prior to consuming raw or using in cooking preserves the availability of sulforaphane, an important phytochemical that plays a role in the anti-carcinogenic properties for which cruciferous vegetables are touted?




Red Bell Peppers

While citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, red bell peppers actually have twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruits on an ounce per ounce basis.  Slice up red peppers to eat with hummus or your favorite veggie dip, or add to salads for an extra crunch.

Try this creamy roasted cauliflower and red pepper soup.   It’s both filling and flavorful. Onion and red pepper blend beautifully with paprika, rosemary, and garlic.  These spinach and artichoke quinoa stuffed peppers are easy and delicious.

RD Tip: Red bell peppers are touted for their Vitamin C content, but they’re also a source of Vitamins A and E, which both pack an antioxidant punch. Just remember “ACE” and you’ll never forget why you should eat red bell peppers: Vitamins A, C, and E! Since red bell peppers tend to be the sweetest tasting of the various bell pepper colors, they work well in berry smoothies – a great way to sneak some a veggie into yours or your kids’ diet.





Berries are full of antioxidants, which help your body fight oxidative stress caused by free radicals.  This helps keep our immune system fighting.   There are many different berries you should try to include in your diet:  strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, and blackberries, to name a few.  When fresh berries aren’t in season or are hard to find, frozen berries are just as nutritious.

Check out a couple of great recipes using berries:

strawberry ginger mango smoothie, strawberry overnight oats, spinach and berry salad with toasted almonds, blueberry smoothie bars

RD Tip: Did you know that the richer the color of the berry throughout the entire piece of fruit, the higher the nutrient content? Consider trying wild blueberries next time you reach for some fresh or frozen berries; wild blueberries have about TWICE the amount of antioxidants as regular blueberries (though both are a great dietary addition to boost immunity)!



Ginger is another ingredient to consider in boosting immunity. Ginger has been shown to help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce a sore throat and other inflammatory illnesses. Ginger is also used to help decrease nausea.

Try a soothing honey ginger tea, or a ginger chicken stir fry, or ginger pork chops, or for a sweet treat, you can also make gingerbread chai cupcakes.

RD Tip: Do you ever buy fresh ginger, use a little bit, and then find yourself throwing the rest away 2 months later when you find it growing mold at the bottom of your fruit and veggie fridge drawer?

Try this next time: peel your remaining fresh ginger, pop it into a small freezer bag, and place it in the freezer. Next time you need to use it simply grate, chop, or slice the amount of frozen ginger you need and then throw what you don’t need back in the freezer. Now you’ll never need to throw out this immune-boosting root!



Greens Like Spinach and Kale

Spinach, kale and dark leafy greens like collard greens are rich in vitamin C. They are also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems. Similar to broccoli, spinach and greens are healthiest when raw or cooked as little as possible so that they retain their nutrients.

Greens are easy to incorporate into your diet.  For raw greens, think smoothies, smoothie bowls, and salads.  This tropical kale smoothie is delicious and helps boost your immunity.

Check out these delicious immunity-boosting recipes using dark, leafy greens – Loaded Baked Egg Muffins CupsBlueberry Spinach Immunity Boosting Salad

RD Tip: Various nutrients found in leafy greens have been linked to brain health, which in turn can reduce chronic stress that can lead to poor immune function. Try adding leafy greens to sandwiches and wraps for an extra anti-inflammatory punch!

greens_for immunity_boosting


Yogurt, Non-Dairy Yogurt Alternatives, and Quark

The live and active probiotics in yogurt and yogurt alternatives stimulate your immune system.  To ensure you are getting the most out of yogurt’s immune building properties,  be sure you are using a low-sugar or no-added-sugar yogurt, as sugar has the opposite effect on our immune systems!  Yogurt can be eaten on its own, as a replacement for sour cream, and in many delicious recipes.

Try these recipes using yogurt to boost your immunity:  hazelnut cacao smoothie recipe using plant-based yogurt, traditional Greek Tzaziki Sauce, and for something sweet, try this cranberry orange yogurt cake.

RD Tip: Look for the wording “contains live and active cultures” on dairy and non-dairy yogurts to ensure that you are purchasing a gut-loving product containing probiotics. Also, be sure to include a variety of fiber foods in your daily diet, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes – fibers act as prebiotics, substances that the probiotics can feed on in the gut so they can do their job at making our gut a house full of good bacteria.



Foods Highest in Vitamin C

This list below highlights the fruits and vegetables that are highest in vitamin C to help boost your immunity.  The recommended daily allowance of vitamin C is 75 mg. for women and 90 mg. for men according to the National Institute of Health.  But that is merely the minimum, consuming five varied servings of fruits and vegetables a day can provide more than 200 mg of vitamin C which can boost immunity.


Download the printable here: Foods High in Vitamin C

More Ways to Prevent Illness

Be sure to eat a wide variety of immunity-boosting foods for maximum protection.   A diet rich in nutrient-dense and high antioxidant foods can help boost your immune system to prevent colds and flu and to help you recover faster.

If you do get sick, be sure to check out 5 home remedies for colds and flu here.

RD Tips provided by Registered Dietician and Chef Jessica Smith, MS, RD from Thrive! Nutrition, LLC – offering in-person and virtual 1:1 nutrition coaching.  Follow Jessica on her social media channels here:

IG: @jsmith.nutrition

Facebook: @jsrdthrive


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