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19th March, 20214 min read

6 foods that boost your immune system

Medical reviewer: Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author: Kathryn Reilly
Last reviewed: 17/03/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

If you’re looking for ways to stay healthy, you might be wondering how to boost your body’s natural defences, or immune system.

And while there’s no single food that will keep you from getting ill, certain nutrients help support your immune system and reduce your risk of infections.

Read on to learn the best way to eat to look after your health and discover 6 foods that can have a role as immune system boosters.

Nutrients for a healthy immune system

To make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to stay healthy and look after your immune system, it’s important to eat a balanced diet.

When it comes to your immune system, certain nutrients have been shown to play key roles in supporting it. They include vitamins A, C, D, E and several B vitamins, as well as zinc, copper, iron and selenium.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also suggested that people up their intake of fruit and vegetables to help them stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, and increase their usual 5 daily portions to 9.

Broccoli

Broccoli is packed with nutrients that support your immune system, not least vitamin C: just 1 cup of this green vegetable provides almost all of your recommended daily intake.

It’s high in beta carotene, potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron, plus lots of B vitamins, too.

Broccoli is also thought to help your body make a substance called glutathione, an ‘antioxidant’ involved in making your immune system work at its best.

Dark chocolate

Yes, it’s true: chocolate can be good for you. As long as it’s dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa solids and is eaten in moderation – no more than 30g to 60g a day. That way you can get the health benefits, while avoiding negative effects from the fat and calories.

As well as being a good source of magnesium, which supports your immune system, plus some zinc and iron, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, particularly ‘flavonols’, which are thought to help with immunity.

Garlic

In many cultures, garlic has been valued for its health-boosting properties for centuries. And lab tests have shown that it has both antibacterial and antiviral properties.

There’s also some scientific evidence to suggest that regularly eating garlic can help you avoid colds. It’s not conclusive and more research is needed, but it’s worth a try – just bear in mind that some people can be allergic to garlic.

Red pepper

Red peppers are a great source of vitamin C, which helps your immune system in a variety of ways – and a lack of it increases your chance of infections. They’re also high in vitamin A, another nutrient linked to immunity.

Vitamin C is sensitive to heat, so enjoy your red pepper raw in a crunchy salad to maximise the benefits.

Salmon

Like all oily fish, salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids. It’s not fully understood how, but it’s thought that omega-3s can help our immune cells work more effectively, and may also increase activity in our white blood cells.

Other oily fish to try include mackerel, sardines and herring.

Yoghurt

Look for unsweetened, natural yoghurt that’s labelled ‘live’. This means it contains ‘probiotics’, which are bacteria that support your gut health – and much of your immune system is in your gut.

According to a study, live yoghurt also increases your body’s production of ‘antibodies’, which help to fight infection.

Yoghurt also contains various other nutrients that support your immune system, including vitamins B12 and D.

Key points

  • a balanced diet will help you get all the nutrients you need to keep your immune system healthy
  • lots of foods contain nutrients that help support your immune system
  • these nutrients include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, zinc, copper, iron and selenium
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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