Remember a time when we chose ingredients based solely on how they tasted? Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s no surprise you’re looking to fill your virtual grocery cart with anything that gives your immune system an extra kick in the pants.
Eating a bunch of superfoods won’t keep COVID-19 away. But filling your diet with immune-boosting foods is a gold star move for your overall health, regardless.
What makes an immune-boosting food?
A combo of powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, protein, and plant compounds that help your beautiful bod keep the nasties at bay.
Here are 22 to ease your mind:
These bad boys bring more than a little crunch to your salad. Bell peppers are bursting with vitamin C. This antioxidant actually boosts the activity of phagocytes, immune cells that can “swallow” nasty bacteria.
It also helps out your lymphocytes, a type of immune cell that can attack enemies in your blood.
Reach for color. A cup of chopped red bell pepper has 190 milligrams of vitamin C — more than double your daily recommended intake — and a whole yellow one packs 341 milligrams. Vitamin C can get destroyed with heat, so enjoy them raw for the biggest boost.
Yep, still talking about vitamin C. Since your bod doesn’t produce or store it, you’ll need to get it in a variety of ways.
It’s not all about oranges! Lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines, and clementines are all bomb sources of cold- and infection-fighting vitamin C.
While we’re #blessed by citrus all year round, this fruit group really shines in the winter. Give cold and flu season a kick out the door with a winter citrus salad, which keeps vitamin C-destroying heat away from the goods.
Grab your crab crackers! Some shellfish are super high in zinc, an essential mineral (meaning you don’t produce it naturally or store it) that is responsible for the development and function of your immune cells.
Zinc promotes healthy inflammation response, can shorten a cold, and reduces oxidative stress — the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants.
Your best bets for zinc are:
Aim for 8 milligrams (for women) or 11 milligrams (for men) a day. Just be careful not to overdo it — too much of this good thing can actually slow your immune system’s roll.
Tiny as they may be, sunflower seeds pack a serious punch of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps your body fight off infection.
Adults should aim for 15 milligrams of vitamin E a day, but it only takes an ounce of these little guys to help you hit 49 percent of that.
Toss shelled seeds on top of salads, add them to your fave granola mix, or try your hand at homemade sunflower butter.
Gingerol (real creative guys…) is the active ingredient in ginger that’s been shown to help fight infections, including the RSV virus.
Along with the gingerol, there’s evidence that other compounds like shoagols and paradols contribute to the anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidative benefits of this powerful root.
Some animal studies also suggest ginger can help protect brain function.
Brew some immune-boosting tea, whip up a ginger health tonic, or up your rice game with this sizzled ginger rice.
Garlic has been hailed for its medicinal properties for literal centuries, but modern scientists now know the secret sauce lies in special sulfur compounds like allicin, diallyl disulfide, and S-Allyl cysteine that get released when garlic is crushed, chewed, or chopped.
These unique compounds give white blood cells a disease-fighting boost and reduce the severity of colds and flu.
It’s also full of antioxidants and may even help get rid of heavy metals.
Heat could damage those sulfur compounds, so crush your garlic and let it stand for 10 minutes before throwing it in the pan.
Mom wasn’t moonlighting as a broccoli pusher just to be a jerk. These little trees are seriously one of the most nutrient-packed veggies you can put on a plate. Along with high levels of potassium, folate, and a bunch of antioxidants, broccoli is a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C.
Just don’t scorch the stuff, or you’ll lose that disease-fighting power. This broccoli Caesar salad keeps all that vitamin C intact and couldn’t be farther from a sad side of steamed stalks.
Get those live and active cultures, baby! All that good probiotic bacteria in yogurt has been shown to help stimulate and regulate your immune system and help kick it in the anti-inflammatory direction.
But get outta here with those fake, sugar-laden flavors. Instead, try a stir of natural, antiviral honey for a extra sweetness.
Plain yogurt not your jam? Here are 5 healthy yogurt parfaits to up your breakfast/lunch/snack game.
Spinach is another vitamin C overachiever. It’s also chock full of antioxidants and beta carotene, which could give your immune system’s infection-fighting abilities a boost.
Like broccoli, you’ll get the most out of spinach when it’s eaten raw or cooked as gently as possible — light cooking helps release nutrients like vitamin A.
We already talked about how vitamin E is key to helping your body fight the nasties, but almonds are especially awesome:
Vitamin E is fat-soluble, so it needs fat in order to be absorbed. Almonds are full of good fats — around 14 grams per ounce — that help deliver those infection-fighting benefits.
An ounce of almonds will check off 37 percent of your daily vitamin E goals. Try a handful as a snack, a crunchy salad topping, or try these almond meal pancakes as a low carb, high nutrient breakfast. Who are we kidding — pancakes are an all-day-every-day food. Go ham.
There’s a reason it’s not just called *SOUP* for the soul. Chicken is truly the magic ingredient in what could be the oldest home remedy in the book.
It’s not all folklore — chicken is high in vitamin B-6, a key player in more than 100 enzyme reactions, including those that keep your immune system firing on all cylinders. For one, it cheers on the production of lymphocytes.
Cooking chicken releases cysteine, an amino acid that, on the chemical level, looks like the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine.
Pair that with the gut-happy gelatin from boiling chicken bones and the mucus-thinning properties of warm liquid, and you’ve got yourself a fighting chance against cold and flu season.
These little cuties are basically bursting with vitamin C: one cup of this juicy little fruit accounts for around 273 percent (!) of your daily recommended intake.
Potassium, folate, and vitamin K also contribute to kiwifruit’s health halo, and one study shows that kiwi not only support immune function, but may actually reduce the severity and the likelihood of developing cold- or flu-like sickness in higher-risk groups (like your parents).
Papayas are another vitamin C superstar, with 224 percent of your daily reco hanging out in just one of these bad boys. This sunshiney fruit is also home to the aptly named papain, an anti-inflammatory digestive enzyme.
Don’t ditch the seeds! They’re bursting with antioxidant compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids and can help destroy some infection-causing fungi.
Sure, they’re good on their own, but have you ever thought of roasting them? Martha did. Give her roasted papaya recipe a shot.
EGCG, a powerful natural antioxidant, is the secret sauce that makes green tea a helping hand in fighting off myriad conditions. It works by reducing free radicals from forming in your body, which protects your cells from damage. It’s also a hella anti-inflammatory.
With every sip, you’ll also benefit from the L-theanine, an amino acid shown to improve immunity and immune-system function.
These purple berries may have skyrocketed to flu-fighting fame in the past few years, but it’s not for nothing. Sambucus, its fancy plant name, checks all the disease-fighting boxes.
It’s antiviral, antifungal, and evidence shows it’s got what it takes to fight off two types of strep bacteria while working to stop the spread of the influenza virus.
How to take it? Dealer’s choice! Gummies, lozenges, and syrups are all widely available. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could try your hand at homemade elderberry syrup. Just don’t chug it, ok?
Mushrooms have been a medicinal go-to for centuries. Shitake and maitake mushrooms are usually the stars of the show when we talk about healing, but let’s not underestimate the humble white mushroom.
These little buttons are a good source of vitamin D and are packed with a crazy good variety of immune-boosting antioxidants, including vitamin C, polyphenols, selenium, polysaccharides, glutathione, and ergothioneine.
Remember when açai was having a moment? Like other blue and purple produce, açai (pronounced AH-sigh-EE, BTW) berries are seriously high in antioxidants. Anthocyanins, found in the rich, dark skin of these little berries, help neutralize free radicals that could damage cells.
That immune-boosting skin is super tough, which is why you’ll find açai berries in the form of purée or powder. Use it to create an easy açai bowl that will be as good for your insta as it is for your immune system.
You thought it was just a cute summer treat, but watermelon packs a healthy punch.
It’s full of vitamin C, lycopene (more than tomatoes!), carotenoids (like beta carotene that converts to vitamin A), and cucurbitacin E, an anti-inflammatory plant compound. It’s also super hydrating, as a bonus.
You can totally just grab a slice and dig in, but this sweet and spicy grilled watermelon will make your brain go 🤯.
Wheat germ is a solid source of folate, magnesium, thiamin, zinc, and phosphorous, but the big immune-booster at work here is free radical-fighting vitamin E. It’s also high in fiber and good for your cardiovascular system which is never a bad thing.
You can add it raw to smoothies, salads, and yogurt, but it’s also used as a binder in baked goods. Toast it up and try it in these wheat germ and banana muffins.
Sweet potatoes have a lot going for them: they’re full of fiber and healthy minerals, and there’s even a good amount of vitamin C.
But for your immune system, sweet potatoes deliver with three powerful antioxidants: anthocynanins (like in açai berries), chorlogenic acid, and beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A, the “anti-inflammatory vitamin.”
Vitamin A is crucial for both the development and the regulation of your immune system, so bow down.
When in doubt, bake ‘em out. While cooking can lower the beta carotene count, vitamin C and antioxidant activity can actually increase. Try this healthier version of a loaded sweet potato.
Your favorite sushi bar starter is as good for you as it is tasty. Miso is made from fermented soybeans, which means it’s full of probiotics that are good for gut health and your immune system.
Out of balance gut bacteria is associated with a host of issues including IBS, food allergies, and even some cancers. And since about 70 percent of the immune system hangs out in the gut, balanced gut flora makes for a strong immune system.
Dissolve miso in hot broth to make soup, or use it in marinades and salad dressings, like this miso-marinated short rib situation.
Pomegranates are home to powerful punicalagin, an antioxidant found in the juice and the peel. These guys have three times more antioxidant chutzpah than red wine or green tea. Pomegranates are also seriously anti-inflammatory and are shown to be antifungal and antibacterial.
Oh, it also has great levels of vitamin C and E, which you’re now a total expert on because you made it this far.
The seeds and juice are both pretty versatile, but we love the juice because it can be used in cocktails, salad dressings, and smoothies.