11 Foods Experts Say Will Boost Your Immune System

Eating foods that boost and improve your immune system could help keep you healthy during cold and flu season (and every other season, for that matter). Such immune-boosting foods include fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C and zinc—which some studies show may prevent viruses like the common cold when consumed together—and foods that are chock-full of other immune-improving substances such as collagen, probiotics, and vitamin A.

1. Red Bell Pepper

Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Nutritious Life – Red peppers are one of my favorite foods to incorporate into my diet for immune system-boosting benefits. Gram for gram, they have about twice the amount of vitamin C as most fruits and vegetables, including the most famous immune-boosters, oranges. Vitamin C is really important for immunity because it can help reduce the length and severity of colds. It also helps your body make collagen, which keeps your skin healthy, and your skin is your first line of defense against germs. I love red peppers because they’re sweet and delicious, and there are so many ways you can eat them. Add them to an omelet in the morning, eat them raw as a snack with a handful of almonds or a scoop of hummus, or slice them up and roast them with a little bit of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper.”

2. Bone Broth

Tracee Gluhaich, California-based health coach and sports nutritionist – “One of my favorite immune-boosting foods is bone broth. It is full of minerals and collagen, which heals your gut and boosts your immune system. One added bonus is the collagen in bone broth helps your joints. It is very easy to make at home.”

3. Sweet Potatoes

Michelle Dudash, RDN, author of Clean Eating for Busy Families – “Sweet potatoes contain more than three times the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin A, a good source of vitamin B6, plus some magnesium and vitamin C—an antioxidant.”

4. Yogurt And Kefir

Gabriele Geerts, RD at Green Chef – “Yogurt and kefir are great ways to strengthen the immune system by providing the body with helpful probiotics, a set of live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial to improving digestive health. The immune system is the main link between our gut bacteria and how it influences our health, so having a healthy digestive system is crucial. There are a lot of different strains of probiotics, but the most common is lactobacillus, which is found in yogurt and kefir.”

5. Grapefruit

Jessi Holden, MS, RDN, CSOWM – “Grapefruit is an excellent food to choose to boost your immune system. It is high in vitamin C (half a grapefruit has 68 percent of your recommended dietary intake) which has antioxidant properties and may boost your cells to fight off bacteria and viruses. Vitamin C is also said to boost immune cells and help you bounce back from a cold faster. If you don’t want a cold grapefruit, try baking it by cutting it in half, [and then] bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes and scoop it out to enjoy over vanilla yogurt.”

6. Roasted Chickpeas

Erin Marchefka, NDTR – “Roasted chickpeas have been my go-to snack this winter! Not only are they a great substitute for chips when you get a crunchy craving, but they also contain the mineral zinc, which helps strengthen our immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses.”

7. Shiitake Mushrooms

Julie Mancuso, BA, RHN, founder of JM Nutrition – “Studies show that shiitake mushrooms reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. In Chinese medicine, shiitake mushrooms have been used for many years as an immune booster, being a rich source of copper, selenium, zinc, and vitamins B and D–all vital for a healthy immune system. Shiitake mushrooms take their rightful place as an important food that boosts immunity.”

8. Garlic

Geerts – “Garlic contains the enzyme alliinase, which converts alliin to allicin, a beneficial sulfur compound that is believed to boost immune function and fend off the common cold and flu. The allicin is activated by chopping or crushing and letting stand for 10 minutes and is most bioavailable when consumed raw. I suggest swallowing the minced garlic and following with a squeeze of lemon and a glass of water.”

9. Hemp Seeds

Rizzo – “Another important aspect of immune health is zinc, since it helps fight against infection. Zinc isn’t in that many foods, but just 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds contain about 20% of your daily needs. Go ahead and add some to your smoothie or oatmeal.”

10. Eggs

Maggie Moon, MS, RD, author of The MIND Diet, and owner of MIND Diet Meals – “Eggs are one of the few kitchen staples that provide a reliable and convenient source of immunity-boosting lutein. It’s a carotenoid that works by enhancing the body’s inherent immune response. As an antioxidant, lutein also fights oxidative stress that runs high when we’re sick since the body has higher protein needs when we’re ill.

11. Anise

Gilmer – “This spice is easily recognized by its distinctive licorice smell. Anise is a triple threat with antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. It also contains immunity-boosting antioxidants.”