8 Immune-Boosting Foods to Add to Your Diet

By Dana Baardsen | March 28, 2019


We tend to think of fall and winter as sniffles season, but the truth is you can catch a cold any time of the year (thanks viruses!), as anyone who’s ever had a summer cold can attest. And honestly, there’s no good time to be sick—especially if you’re an athlete training for a Tough Mudder.

You already know that good hygiene—we’re talking hand-washing, people—is essential to fighting off germs, but you can also up your odds of keeping colds at bay by getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and adding these eight immune-boosting foods to your diet.

Immune-Boosting Foods

Garlic: Grab a mint, because raw garlic is one of the most effective natural antibiotics. Raw garlic contains a compound called allicin, which is being researched for effectiveness against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. You can chop up a clove and swallow it with a glass of water like you would take any other pill or add it to a spread like hummus or cream cheese. 

Chives: Similar to garlic, chives also contain allicin, the antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal compound that can help prevent illness and speed up healing. Aside from the allicin, chives contain high levels of immune-boosting vitamin C.  

Citrus: Oranges, lemons, and limes will help keep your immune system on track, thanks to the boost of vitamin C each fruit provides. 

Ginger: Ginger has been used for thousands of years to treat various ailments from the common cold to serious infections, and it's the perfect ingredient to add to smoothies and salads. The flavor certainly adds a kick, and aside from the ability to soothe an upset stomach naturally, ginger contains antimicrobial properties to keep you well-guarded from germs.

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Blueberries: Pterostilbenes, found in blueberries, interact with vitamin D to help strengthen the immune system. Small but fierce, blueberries support and strengthen the immune system and offer a nice dose of vitamin C with each handful, too.

Spices: Add spices to your diet that are known for either destroying bacteria or strengthening the immune system. Spices like turmeric, black pepper, and cinnamon are simple, effective options.

Kale: Kale leaves are packed with vitamin C, protective phytonutrients, and folate, which all work together to help strengthen the immune system. Add organic kale to your smoothies and salads to keep your immune system happy.  

Red Bell Pepper: Packed with vitamins A and C, red bell peppers can really help support your immune system. You might associate oranges with vitamin C content, but red peppers actually slightly trump oranges when it comes to vitamin C content per serving.

When it comes to reaping the immune-boosting benefits of natural food, keep in mind that fresh is best. Adding heat to the food can alter the nutritional composition and make it less effective in guarding against bacteria and disease. Depending on the raw food, you can blend it up a smoothie, juice it, add to your favorite salad, enjoy as a snack, or perk up your meal prep session.

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You’ll also want to focus on supplementing your healthy diet with foods that contain a heaping dose of vitamin C, antioxidants, and antimicrobial compounds.

Finally, just remember: If you’re already under the weather, it’s best to connect with your physician and make sure you receive the proper care your body needs.

Dana Baardsen has been using her degree in nutrition and food science to coach nutrition at gyms and wellness centers in the New York City area and cover health and fitness since 2012. Her work has been featured on Tough Mudder, Fit Pregnancy, Class Pass, Reader's Digest, and more. She edited The Cool Girl's Guide to the FODMAP Diet and chats about weight loss topics as a guest on the "Conquer Your Mountain" podcast.