Cold season is here — and with flu, RSV and COVID viruses also circulating — you might be looking for ways to boost your immune system.
Fortunately, the food you eat can play a significant role in keeping your immune system strong.
How can food boost your immune system?
The nutrients in various foods can boost your immune system by helping your body produce and support healthy white and red blood cells.
Additionally, certain vitamins and minerals can fight inflammation, increase mucus production to trap bacteria and help your red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout your body.
Some of the most beneficial immune-boosting nutrients are:
Consuming nutrient-rich foods is especially beneficial during cold and flu season. This winter, try to add more of the following 12 foods to your diet to help boost your immune system.
1. Citrus fruit
Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps the immune system fight off infections.
Vitamin C is concentrated in immune cells and has been proven to decrease during infections. This means your body needs more vitamin C if you've been exposed to a cold or flu virus.
Excellent sources of vitamin C in citrus fruits include:
Chicken soup is both comforting and a hearty meal when fighting a cold.
Chicken is also high in vitamin B6, which is essential in creating new and healthy red blood cells.
3. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are delicious, nutritious and versatile.
They're high in vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene and potassium — a mineral that helps fluid balance throughout your body.
The vitamin A in sweet potatoes helps maintain a robust immune system by supporting the production and activity of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which fight infections.
There are plenty of ways to incorporate healthy sweet potato recipes into your diet during cold and flu season.
4. Oily fish
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats that play an essential role in supporting your immune system by providing energy and structural components to cell membranes.
Omega-3s benefit the health of your heart and brain, and may be best known for their ability to fight inflammation.
Fish like salmon and albacore tuna are fantastic options for an immune system boost.
5. Red bell peppers
If you're looking for a significant vitamin C boost, citrus fruits aren't your only option.
Red bell peppers are an excellent source of both vitamin C and vitamin A. In fact, they contain approximately three times as much vitamin C as your average Florida orange.
Bell peppers offer several health benefits, so be sure to stock up on this nutritious veggie this cold and flu season.
Don't forget to add some broccoli to your flu-fighting diet as well.
Broccoli is rich in immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E, which help protect your immune cells against damage from free radicals.
With bell peppers, broccoli and chicken all being great for your immune system, perhaps it's time for a stir-fry night.
Shellfish are delicious delicacies rich in zinc. Adult women should ideally consume eight milligrams of zinc daily, while men should consume 11 milligrams.
Shellfish, such as oysters, lobster and mussels, are an excellent source of this immune-boosting nutrient.
For example, a single serving of Alaskan king crab can contribute 6.5 milligrams toward your daily dose.
Almonds are a good source of vitamin E, which plays a vital role in fighting off free radicals and keeping your immune system strong.
These nuts are also a great source of fibre, which helps keep the digestive system running smoothly.
The vitamin K in almonds may help protect against cancer, especially when combined with a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
Berries are a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants.
They're also rich in fibre, which helps you feel fuller for longer. The best part? Berries are delicious and versatile. Add them to salads or eat them freely to give your immune system a leg up against colds.
Tip: Add berries to yogurt for a healthy and immunity-boosting breakfast.
Kiwi is a great source of vitamins C, E, A and K. This fruit is also rich in copper, potassium and manganese.
The high concentration of antioxidants in kiwis will help boost your immune system while protecting you from damage caused by free radicals.
Because of the nutrient-rich nature of kiwis, they offer a multitude of other health benefits.
Kiwis are available all year long, so they're a great addition to your regular diet.
Garlic is a powerful immunity booster thanks to its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. It also contains vitamin C and other antioxidants that help boost your body's defences.
It's also rich in selenium, an important mineral and antioxidant, as well as manganese. Both are important compounds for good health and are usually found in only small amounts, so adding a little extra garlic to your plate can be a big help during cold and flu season.
If you need a triple dose of flu-fighting foods, try out this garlic-confit chicken with lemon.
Papaya is rich in vitamins A, C and E, as well as fibre and potassium, making it an immune-system booster.
It's great on its own or in a fruit salad that contains other cold-busting fruits like berries and citrus fruits.
More ways to protect yourself during cold and flu season
In addition to eating immunity-boosting foods, there are extra steps you can take during cold and flu season to help prevent sickness.
Get plenty of sleep, washing your hands and disinfecting public surfaces can help.
These may all seem obvious, but they can go a long way in protecting you from common viruses. Keep your body even healthier by exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and limiting your consumption of alcohol.
Try these great recipes that feature immune-boosting foods to help keep you protected this cold and flu season.