Does it seem like everyone around you is sick, and you’re desperate to avoid it? Or maybe you’re on your second cold of the season, you’ve used up all your sick days, and you’re pretty sure you’re single-handedly keeping cough medicine and tissue companies in business. Either way, it’s time to consider adding a few foods to your diet that support your immune system in order to prevent colds, the flu and other viruses (we’re looking at you, COVID-19).
Of course, food isn’t the only solution. I mean, no wonder you’re sick all the time! You fight your alarm clock, then traffic, then grocery store lines, over and over and over. And, while the entire world seems to be sinking into a pit of illness, you’re the one struggling to keep up, stay healthy and take care of everyone else.
This all translates to more stress, less sleep and probably not enough energy left over for exercise and other healthy ways of recharging. (This seems like a good time for a gentle reminder to practice some self-care.)
How to boost your immune system so you’re not stuck in bed with a virus or the flu? You’ll likely have to make some adjustments across the board, but you can easily start building your defenses on your plate. All you have to do is keep doing what you already do three to five times a day—eat. Just add in as many of these healthy foods to your meals as you can.
6 Foods That Boost Your Immune System
Most yogurt contains probiotics (AKA good bacteria) that help support your immune system. Studies have shown eating yogurt rich in probiotics can lead to an improved immune system by increasing white blood cell counts.
And it’s not just about your daily breakfast. You can add yogurt to your diet in surprising places. Try a dollop on black bean soup, mixed with peanut butter for a sweet dip, or mixed with herbs and spices to coat chicken.
Sneak in extra defense against the sniffles by adding mushrooms to your diet. These fun guys contain vitamin B2 (riboflavin), an antioxidant that fights free radicals, plus other important nutrients like selenium and ergothionine. And small studies have shown eating shiitakes daily is associated with increased immunity.
Gram for gram, red peppers have twice the vitamin C of most of the fruits and vegetables you think of when you think about the vitamin, even oranges. Research shows that increasing vitamin C intake can reduce the length of a cold as well as the severity of symptoms. Vitamin C is also known to help maintain the integrity of your skin, which is the body’s first line of defense against microbes and viruses.
Slice ‘em, dice ‘em, just make sure to eat ‘em. Add them raw to a salad for an extra crunch, saute them into your favorite stir fry recipe for a touch of sweet, stuff them with quinoa for a delicious dinner idea, or always have them pre-cut in the fridge for crudités at your fingertips.
Your mother wasn’t wrong to give you chicken soup when you were home sick from school. Chicken soup has an amino acid, cysteine, which may be help with the breakdown of mucus to relieve a persistent cough. Also, the soup’s salty broth keeps mucus thin the same way cough medicines do. And flavorful, antioxidant-packed veggies such as garlic, onions, carrots, and ginger can increase your soup’s immune-boosting power.
Ask your mom or your grandma for her recipe (it’s probably easy and delish), or try this one.
Berries contain vitamin C, which I already mentioned can really help with colds. Also, Vitamin C not only aids in iron absorption, which increases immunity by making both T cells and hypochlorous acid (used by white blood cells to kill dangerous pathogens), but it is also a well known antioxidant that protects the body against illness.
Pick berries up at a farm stand when you can, but you can also make them a staple in the freezer during winter. Add to yogurt, smoothies, or oatmeal for an immunity boost. If you’ve got some fresh ones in your fridge, use them in place of jelly on your PB&J or make a typically savory recipe like quinoa salad a sweet one instead.
Finally, the sweetest defender of all…honey! Honey contains many phytonutrients that act as immune system-boosting antioxidants, as well as antibacterial compounds that ward off bacteria to help fight infection in the body. Plus, if you put it in your tea, it can soothe a sore throat and act as a cough suppressant.
Drizzle it in your hot beverages or on basically anything that could use a little sweetness.