WebMD BlogsFood and Fitness

What to Eat to Boost Your Immune System

Cutting vegetables
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD - Blogs
By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RDRegistered dietitianMarch 05, 2020

Wouldn’t it be nice if eating a particular food could magically protect you against all the nasty bugs floating around? (Even better, if this magical food happened to be, say, chocolate?)

It’s not that simple, of course. Handwashing remains your best defense against picking up viruses, and sleep is a crucial component of a strong defense too.

But what you eat does play a role in your ability to ward off colds and flu. Though it doesn’t boil down to just one or two foods, the nutrients and other compounds found in your daily diet have an impact on how weak or strong your immunity is. Here are some eating habits that can help you stay healthy:

Eat fruits & vegetables every day: Produce contains key vitamins involved in the immune system. Vitamin C in foods like strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, and citrus, helps immune system cells function, including phagocytes (the kind that engulfs potentially harmful particles). Vitamin A helps keep tissues in the mouth, intestines, and respiratory tract healthy and is found in sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, and cantaloupe. Remember that eating the actual fruit or veggie is better than popping single-vitamin supplements since it’s likely that all the components in the food interact to offer protection.

Get plenty of protein: Getting too little protein can weaken your immune system. Protein-rich foods supply the amino acids you need to build essential proteins in the body, including antibodies. Animal foods like beef and pork also contain zinc, a mineral that your body uses to make t-cells (you can find zinc in cashews and chickpeas too).

Include fermented foods: These are foods that are naturally preserved by bacteria, and they’re good for the “microbiome”. That’s the name for the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut, where a lot of cells involved in immunity actually reside. Fermented foods like yogurt (look for the term “live and active cultures” on the label), kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi help beneficial bacteria flourish in the gut, leaving less room for harmful bugs.

Season your meals: Every plant food has its own unique compounds that offer potential health-boosting benefits. Spices and seasonings like garlic, ginger, oregano, and cinnamon have all been researched for intriguing capabilities as anti-microbials, anti-inflammatories, and cell-protecting antioxidants. They’re not magic cure-alls, and popping them in the form of pills isn’t the same as eating the real deal. But adding flavor to foods with these ingredients means you’re getting even more beneficial compounds in the meals you eat every day.

WebMD Blog
© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD

Sally Kuzemchak is a registered dietitian in Columbus, Ohio. An award-winning reporter and writer, Sally has been published in magazines such as Health, Family Circle, and Eating Well and is a Contributing Editor to Parents magazine. She is the author of the book The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She blogs at Real Mom Nutrition, a "no-judgments" zone all about feeding families.

More from the Food and Fitness Blog

  • calm face illustration

    A Simple Self-Care Exercise to Calm Your Nerves

    As a yoga teacher, I’m always promoting the importance of self-care. Never have we needed it more than right now, when life has been turned upside down by coronavirus.

  • woman adding fruits and veg to refrigerator

    How to Make Your Food Go Further

    While staying home due to COVID-19, it's smart to be strategic about what we buy and savvy about how we use it.

View all posts on Food and Fitness

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More