Treat Your Immune System to Healthy Foods

October 19, 2020 Providence Nutrition Team

While no food offers a guaranteed cure or protection from disease, certain foods may give your immune system a boost.

  • Immunity-boosting foods give your body a fighting chance against illness.
  • Incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods helps your immune system function effectively.
  • Sugar, caffeine and alcohol may weaken the immune system.

[3 MIN READ] 

As flu season approaches and the pandemic holds strong, it’s more important than ever to take steps to keep your body healthy. That starts with taking care of your immune system – your first line of defense against foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.

Your immune system comprises an elaborate network of molecules, cells, tissues and organs that play a  role in protecting the body. The skin, saliva, mucus membranes and digestive tract provide the first barrier against outside organisms, and specialized cells inside the body target and destroy those that break through.

While no food offers a guaranteed cure or protection from disease, certain foods may give your immune system a boost to work effectively and efficiently against colds, the flu and other infections. Others, such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol may weaken the immune system. 

As you hunker down for cooler weather, try incorporating more of these foods in your diet:

  • Citrus fruits. These refreshing foods – such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes – are an excellent source of vitamin C, which increases your body’s production of infection-fighting white blood cells. Your body can’t produce or store vitamin C, so it’s important to eat foods daily that provide this nutrient. The recommended daily amount (RDA) for women is 75 mg; for men, it’s 90 mg. This translates to approximately a ½ cup of orange juice.

Your body can’t produce or store vitamin C, so it’s important to eat foods daily that provide this nutrient. 

  • Red bell peppers. This crunchy veggie is rich in vitamin C, with nearly 3 times the amount you’ll find in a small-sized orange (127 mg, compared to 45 mg). But it’s also packed with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A – a nutrient that helps keep the eyes and skin healthy. 
  • Broccoli. Widely regarded as a superfood, broccoli is high in vitamins A and C. It also is packed with vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps destroy cell-damaging free radicals, and is an excellent source of fiber. Don’t overcook your broccoli – steaming is the best way to prepare it and retain its beneficial nutrients.
  • Spinach. The classic cartoon character Popeye got his super-strength from eating spinach, and he was definitely onto something. The superfood is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and beta-carotene – all of which help boost the immune system. Lightly cooking it will preserve its nutritional value while aiding the body’s absorption of these substances. 
  • Yogurt. The live and active cultures, also known as probiotics, are believed to stimulate the immune system and maintain digestive system function. It also is a good source of vitamin D, which helps regulate the body’s natural defenses against disease.

The live and active cultures in yogurt, also known as probiotics, are believed to stimulate the immune system and maintain digestive system function.

  • Sunflower seeds and almonds. Both contain vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that increases the activity of immune cells and helps the body fight bacteria and viruses. An ounce of sunflower seeds (1/4 cup) provides about half of the daily recommended amount (DRA) for vitamin E, while the same portion of almonds equals 45% of the daily goal. Both are excellent additions to any smoothie or salad.
  • Shellfish. Zinc helps immune cells work properly, but just like vitamin C, your body can’t make or store it so incorporating it daily is important. Shellfish, such as a oysters, crabs, lobster and mussels, are a great source of this nutrient. The DRA for men is 11 mg; for women, 8 mg. Don’t go overboard, however. Too much zinc may inhibit immune system function.
  • Tea. White, green or black, this relaxing beverage, served hot or on ice, contains disease-fighting polyphenols and flavonoids that detect and destroy free radicals – substances that can destroy healthy cells.
  • Sweet potatoes and carrots. Rich in beta-carotene, these foods help build up the mucous membranes lining the respiratory tract, a first line of defense against germs. A baked sweet potato – delicious sprinkled with cinnamon – offers 150 percent of the RDA, while one cup of raw carrots provides over 100 percent.

Rich in beta-carotene, sweet potatoes and carrots help build up the mucous membranes lining the respiratory tract, a first line of defense against germs.

  • Chicken soup. It’s good for the soul, but also the body. The ultimate comfort food, chicken soup’s anti-inflammatory properties can soothe the respiratory system and relieve nasal congestion. And the protein found in chicken and other lean meats promote effective functioning of your T cells, which protect the body against foreign pathogens.
  • Dark Chocolate. If you ever needed an excuse to treat yourself, here it is: Dark chocolate is believed to offer a plentiful supply of theobromine, an antioxidant that may relieve coughing. Though more studies need to be done to prove this theory definitively, a little chocolate goes a long way to making anyone feel better. Chocolate is a high-calorie food, so eat in moderation.

Find a doctor

To learn more about immune-boosting foods and proper nutrition, or to schedule a consultation with a doctor or registered dietitian, see our provider directory.

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Related Resources

Foods to Boost the Immune System

Foods That Strengthen Your Immune System

Support Your Health with Nutrition

5 immune boosters to keep you healthy amid COVID-19 outbreak

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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