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5 Immune System-Boosting Foods

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It doesn’t have to be flu season for the body’s immune system to need immune-boosting nutrition to fight off the latest bug. The good news is, that the immune system is a finely tuned and complex defense system that can be strengthened by regular exercise and a strong nutrition plan.

Nutrition and the Immune System

Proper nutrition and a well-rounded meal plan can play a vital role in the health and effectiveness of the immune system. The various specialized cells that support the immune system rely on certain nutrients and other nutritional factors, to function optimally. 

In general, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean proteins provides the wide range of essential vitamins and minerals needed for a strong immune system. This well-rounded nutrition plan also naturally includes antioxidants—micronutrients that are available in both food and in supplemental form that neutralize oxidants and thus reduce free radical formation.  Immune-boosting vitamins and minerals include: 


  • Vitamins A, B, C and E
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

While it may be tempting to rely on supplements for these essential nutrients, getting them from food is highly recommended for most individuals. Micronutrients, including those that support the immune system, are usually easier to absorb by the body when they come from food vs. a multivitamin. According to Nutrition.gov, “It is important to note that vitamin/mineral supplements are not a replacement for a healthful diet. Remember that in addition to vitamins and minerals, foods also contain hundreds of naturally occurring substances that can help protect your health.” It is only certain groups of individuals, such as older adults or pregnant and nursing women, who may need vitamin supplements in addition to a healthful diet. 

When it comes to the immune system, it’s important to maintain a consistent healthy eating plan to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Any slight deficiency, even in just one nutrient, over time can weaken immunity. A weakened immune system leads to increased free radical formation and increases the oxidation or breakdown of cells. This is where immune system-boosting, antioxidant-rich foods can help. 

Immune System-Boosting Foods

Including a variety of healthful and nutritionally dense foods in your meals is the basis of any good nutrition plan. In addition, antioxidant-rich foods such as these can help specifically boost the immune system: 

1. Wheat Germ

Not only is this food a key source of fiber, wheat germ is packed with protein and vitamins, including vitamin E, and is a great source of zinc. Add wheat germ to your bread, muffin and cookie recipes, or sprinkle it over yogurt and fresh fruit.

2. Low-Fat Yogurt 

Yogurt is a great source of probiotics, a beneficial type of bacteria that helps maintain the health of the gastrointestinal tract and fight off invading organisms. Choose the low-fat or fat-free kind to reap the benefits without extra saturated fat.

3. Spinach/Kale

Dark, leafy greens such as kale and spinach contain high levels of vitamin C, which is often the first antioxidant we think of when it comes to boosting the immune system. Enjoy these leafy greens sautéed with garlic and olive oil or eat fresh as the base of a nutritious salad.

4. Ginger

Considered to be an antimicrobial, antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory food, ginger has long been used in Eastern medicine and home remedies to prevent and reduce the effects of illness. Ginger contains vitamins A, C, E and B complex, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, calcium, beta-carotene and potassium, many of which directly support the immune system. Season veggie-rich stir-fries with ginger or add it to green tea to take advantage of the immune-boosting benefits.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” wrote Hippocrates. Don’t wait for the next germ to strike. Following a healthy nutrition plan now, complete with immune-boosting foods like these, can help your body fight off any invading organisms faster and more effectively in the future. 

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