immune boosting foods 62bc4b99dc6f7

Immune Boosting Foods

Immune Boosting Foods

Are you having a hard time finding the foods at the grocery store to help you stay healthy? How often are you unable to find everything on your grocery list in stock? I had one young lady ask me she knows she should be eating more citrus for vitamin C and broccoli is good for antioxidants but what other foods should she get to boost her immune system?  Many foods are harder to get these days in the grocery store so I’ve decided to give you a broader list of foods that can help boost your immune system.  Some of these are well known and without surprise, but a few may not be as obvious.



Mushrooms have substances that can stimulate your immune system. You should eat the whole mushroom including the caps and stem.  While mushrooms, in general, have these substances certain medicinal mushrooms have a higher concentration of beta-glucans which is a specific ingredient that studies show can reduce the symptoms of sickness by 30%.



Vitamin C helps to build up the immune system. It increases white blood cell production. Your body doesn’t store vitamin C so its important to continue to eat food sources with high vitamin C daily. Sources of citrus include grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes, clementines


Red Bell Peppers

Ounce for ounce, red bell peppers contain twice as much vitamin C as citrus. Besides the vitamin C which helps the immune system and maintains healthy skin, the red coloration indicating high levels of beta carotene can help your eyes and skin stay healthy as well.



Broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. It is full of vitamins A, C, and E and fiber. Most importantly it has certain antioxidants like sulforaphane that help you neutralize natural waste products from your cells and help you clear the toxins you encounter every day from the environment. It is best to just cook it so it turns intense green usually cooking it in a pot with very little water and for less than 3 minutes. Eating it raw is fine as well. Overcooking it depletes its nutrients.



Garlic is added to cooked food in every culture and in ancient times was thought to aid in infections. More recent studies have shown it can lower blood pressure and slow down the hardening of arteries. Garlic has a high concentration of allicin, a sulfur-containing compound that boosts your immune system.



Ginger has also been thought of a go-to remedy after getting sick. Ginger can decrease inflammation so when used for a sore throat it can help. It also helps with other areas of inflammation and may decrease nausea. The experience of heat or warmth when a sweet dessert is made with ginger comes from gingerol which is in the same family as capsaicin. More recent research has shown that ginger also lowers cholesterol.



Spinach is also rich in Vitamin C but it also has high concentrations of antioxidants and beta carotene. All 3 of these ingredients help boost our immune systems to fight infection.  Like broccoli however, you should cook it as little as possible so that its nutrients do not get damaged or evaporated away by the cooking process. Light cooking, however, enhances Vitamin A and other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid in the heating process.



Greek yogurt or yogurt with “live and active cultures” may help boost the immune system. The downsides are that almost all yogurt has added sugar and some people that are sensitive to casein in milk may have a problem as well. It’s best to eat a no added sugar yogurt and add fruit yourself otherwise the sugar alone could impair your immune system and should be avoided. Yogurt also has vitamin D which helps modulate and optimize the immune system. This will boost your body’s natural defenses.



Almonds have vitamin E that is needed for a healthy functioning immune system. While vitamin C which is much more well known is water-soluble, vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin so it needs to be taken with fat or a fatty meal in order to be absorbed.  Nuts such as almonds have healthy fats along with Vitamin E and is a great natural “package” to get Vitamin D and healthy fats all at the same time. Eating 46 whole shelled almonds, or a half-cup serving size will provide just about 100% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E. Besides enhancing the immune system, Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, has anti-inflammatory roles in many conditions, and inhibits platelet aggregation which means decreased clotting risks for people with heart disease.



Turmeric is the well known yellow main ingredient in many curries. It is less well known that it has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for many years to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It has high concentrations of curcumin which give turmeric its bright yellow color. Curcumin can decrease and help repair muscles after exercise.


Green Tea

Green tea ad black tea contains flavonoids which are antioxidants. Green tea also has high levels of epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, an additional powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that EGCG boots immune function.  Black tea is made by a fermentation process that unfortunately destroys most of the EGCG.  Green tea is steamed rather than fermented so its EGCG is intact at much higher levels. Green tea also has L-theanine which is an amino acid that promotes the growth of T-cell;  white blood cells that help you fight infection.



One papaya contains 224 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C. Papayas also contains papain which is a digestive enzyme that has anti-inflammatory properties. Additional nutrients found in papayas include potassium, B vitamins, and folate. All these are essential nutrients that your body needs.



Kiwis, like Papayas, also have high amounts of potassium, Vitamin C, and folate which all are essential nutrients. But Kiwi’s also are a source of Vitamin K, one form of which with Vitamin D helps direct calcium to the bones and teeth.



Everyone has heard chicken soup can help you feel better when you are sick. It also helps you fight off the cold and if consumed on a regular basis may be protective.  Chicken and turkey is high in Vitamin B-6. 40-50 % of your total recommended daily allowance of B-6 is found in 3 ounces of white turkey or chicken meat.  Vitamin B-6 is a catalyst for many important chemical reactions in the body. It is essential in the pathway to making new healthy red blood cells which only have a lifespan of 3 months. The gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients derived from the bones boiled to make a broth help heal the gut and immune system. Over 70% of the immune system resides in the gut.


Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds have extremely high levels of vitamin E, which I previously mentioned is a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin E helps balance and sustain the immune system. Sunflower seeds are also full of nutrients like phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin B-6. All these are essential for energy production and mitochondrial health.



What does shellfish have to do with immune-boosting nutrients? It has a lot of zinc. Zinc is needed to help the immune cells do their job of fighting infection. In the most recent studies it was suggested that getting higher zinc and Vitamin C into cells helped the body slow and fight the latest flu virus. Shellfish include crab, clams, lobster, and mussels.  Please note that there is a delicate balance between the amount of copper in the body and the amount of zinc in the body. The recommended daily amount of zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women and a safe total would be less than 50mg.  Too much zinc offsets the Zinc to copper ratio and can actually impair the immune system.


In general, whole organic foods, getting a variety of foods, and rotating the above food groups is the best strategy for getting adequate nutrition for a healthy immune system.  If you can’t get a lot of the foods because of grocery shortages you may opt to supplement. Keep in mind vitamin C is not stored, is water-soluble, and you should consume as much vitamin C in the foods mentioned above. You should still add supplementation as blood levels are the highest with liposomal or IV forms of intake. Almost everyone is Vitamin D deficient in the northern hemisphere so supplementation is recommended; especially with the studies showing how higher blood levels optimize immune function and decrease the risk of cancer and depression. Also, although most of the mushrooms in the grocery store do not have a very high concentration of beta-glucans so supplementation may also be more beneficial. I will have a blog post on beta-glucan on my website.


So I hope this helps. If you have comments, questions, or want to learn how functional medicine can help with nutrition and building up health from the roots call our office or email Stay well and Take Care.


Jeffrey Mark, M.D.

Helping clients with compassionate and comprehensive medical care for over 25 years with 4 board certifications in functional medicine, gastroenterology, internal medicine, and anti-aging/ regenerative medicine . IFMCP, ABIM Gastroenterology, NPAS Internal Medicine, ABAARM.

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