10 Best Foods to Boost Your Immune System

What you and your family should eat to keep your immune system healthy



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, here are some superstar foods that you should include in your diet, especially when heading into cold and flu season.

Various studies have shown that garlic has antibacterial and antiviral properties. It has been shown to stimulate the production of white blood cells, and can act as an antioxidant in the body.

Kid-friendly serving idea:

  • Put lots of garlic into chicken noodle soup to help ward off or relieve cold and flu symptoms. Put some minced garlic into a Greek-style salad made with cucumber, tomato, and feta cheese.



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

Kid-friendly serving idea:

  • Slice some shitake mushrooms and stir into some miso soup

Brightly-Colored Vegetables


Carotenoids such as beta carotene are important antioxidants that aid in immune system function. Carotenoids are present in bright yellow, orange and green vegetables. It’s important to get a variety of vegetables of different colors because various types of carotenoids are thought to work together to strengthen the body’s immune system. “Colors are the calling card for carotenoids,” says Dr. Katz. “You want to try to develop a portfolio -- get as much of a variety of colors as you can.”


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 lower risk of chronic disease.

Kid-friendly serving idea:

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



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 rather than just one type.

Kid-friendly serving idea:

  • Make a yummy berry smoothie.
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    Omega 3 fatty acids and other healthy fats help increase the activity of white blood cells. They 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. “Omega 3 fatty acids are immune modulators,” says Dr. Katz.

    One thing to keep in mind when choosing fish: 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.

    “Kids, like adults, are deficient in omega 3 fatty acids,” says Dr. Katz. The best way to get omega 3 fatty acids is by eating fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel. Another good source is krill oil capsules.

    Other sources of omega 3 fatty acids:
    Flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts

    Kid-friendly serving idea:

    • Add a few spoonfuls of flax oil to an antioxidant-rich berry smoothie.
    • Make a yogurt parfait with fresh berries, granola and a sprinkling of walnuts on top.



    Here’s some happy news for chocolate lovers everywhere: Cocoa is an immune-boosting food. “Cocoa is a concentrated antioxidant,” says Dr. Katz. 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. Studies have shown that regular consumption of cocoa may reduce heart disease risk, help raise good cholesterol, and possibly reverse blood vessel damage in people with diabetes.

    Kid-friendly serving idea:

    • Mug of hot chocolate made with cocoa powder, reduced-fat milk and a bit of raw sugar.



    Studies have shown that the live cultures in yogurt such as lactobacillus can protect the intestinal tract against gastro-intestinal illnesses and increase resistance to immune-related diseases such as infection and even cancer. And the beneficial live cultures in yogurt such as lactobacillus acidophilus may help prevent colds and other infections.

    When choosing yogurt, go for Greek. One serving can contain as much as 30 grams of protein, which is two to three times the amount in regular yogurt, and is lower in sugar and loaded with calcium.

    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.
    • Make a yogurt parfait with fresh berries, granola and a sprinkling of nuts on top.



    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:
    Pumpkins, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spinach

    Other great sources of vitamin C:
    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, Lean Meats


    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: Oysters, nuts, fortified cereal, 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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