12 Healthy Foods to Support Your Immune System

Photo of Daisy Whitbread Written by Daisy Whitbread
BSc (Hons) MSc DipION
Photo of Dr. Thomas Kutner Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Thomas Kutner
Evidence Based. References sourced from PubMed.
12 Healthy Foods to Support Your Immune System

The immune system is a complex network of cells, organs, and tissues that work together to protect us against disease. When the immune system is weakened, we are more vulnerable to catching any 'bugs' that are going around; this includes common colds, flu, and other viruses.

Nutrition plays a vital role in keeping the immune system healthy. Current research shows that more than 20 different nutrients are necessary to keep the system functioning at its best. Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, and probiotics are among the most well-known and well-researched.

No single food can 'boost' the immune system, however, there are foods that, as part of a varied and balanced diet, can provide some of the key nutrients it requires. Foods that support your immune system function and overall health include brazil nuts, oatmeal, yogurt, berries, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, and more...

Data Sources and References

  1. Silva Junior EC, Wadt LHO, Silva KE, Lima RMB, Batista KD, Guedes MC, Carvalho GS, Carvalho TS, Reis AR, Lopes G, Guilherme LRG. Brazil nuts: Nutritional composition, health benefits and safety aspects Chemosphere. 2017 Dec;188:650-658. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2017.08.158. Epub 2017 Sep 4. 28923728
  2. Avery JC, Hoffmann PR. The role of selenium in inflammation and immunity: from molecular mechanisms to therapeutic opportunities Nutrients. 2018 Sep 1;10(9):1203. doi: 10.3390/nu10091203. 30200430
  3. Kong Z, Xia Z. Selenium and human health Lancet. 2012 Aug 4;380(9840):471; author reply 471-2. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61287-2. 22863048
  4. Yun CH, Estrada A, Van Kessel A, Gajadhar A, Redmond M, Laarveld B. Immunomodulatory activities of oat beta-glucan in vitro and in vivo Microbiol Immunol. 1998;42(6):457-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1348-0421.1998.tb02309.x. 9688080
  5. Mani-López E, Palou E, López-Malo A. Role of probiotics and functional foods in health: gut immune stimulation by two probiotic strains and a potential probiotic yoghurt J Dairy Sci. 2014 May;97(5):2578-90. doi: 10.3168/jds.2013-7551. 24745665
  6. Kopp-Hoolihan L. Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health J Am Diet Assoc. 2001 Feb;101(2):229-38; quiz 239-41. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(01)00060-8. 11271697
  7. Prescott SL, Wickens K, Westcott L, Jung W, Currie H, Black PN, Stanley TV, Mitchell EA, Fitzharris P, Siebers R, Wu L, Crane J; Probiotic Study Group. Immune system stimulation by probiotic microorganisms Clin Exp Allergy. 2008 Oct;38(10):1606-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2008.03061.x. Epub 2008 Jul 2. 18631345
  8. Ströhle A, Wolters M, Hahn A. Vitamin C and Immune Function Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2011 Feb;10(1):54-63. doi: 10.2174/187152811794352105. 21184650
  9. Valko M, Rhodes CJ, Moncol J, Izakovic M, Mazur M. Studies on oxidants and antioxidants with a brief glance at their relevance to the immune system Chem Biol Interact. 2006 Mar 10;160(1):1-40. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2005.12.009. Epub 2006 Jan 23. 16430879
  10. Santos MS, Gaziano JM, Leka LS, Beharka AA, Hennekens CH, Meydani SN. Natural killer cell activity in elderly men is enhanced by beta-carotene supplementation Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Jul;68(1):164-70. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/68.1.164. 9665110
  11. Douglas RM, Hemilä H, Chalker E, Treacy B. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jul 18;(3):CD000980. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub3. 17636648
  12. Cardwell G, Bornman JF, James AP, Daly A, Dunlop E, Dabos G, Adorno P, Black LJ. Photobiology of vitamin D in mushrooms and its bioavailability in humans Foods. 2023 Mar 28;12(7):1429. doi: 10.3390/foods12071429. 37048250
  13. S?awi?ska A, Fornal E, Radzki W, Skrzypczak K, Zalewska-Korona M, Michalak-Majewska M, Parfieniuk E, Stachniuk A. A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D Food Chem. 2016 May 15;199:203-9. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.11.131. Epub 2015 Nov 30. 26775962
  14. Johnson IT. The beneficial effects of Brassica vegetables on human health Proc Nutr Soc. 2007 May;66(2):207-15. doi: 10.1017/S0029665107005459. 17466103
  15. Bai Y, Wang X, Zhao S, Ma C, Cui J, Zheng Y. Potential of Sulforaphane as a Natural Immune System Enhancer: A Review Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015;2015:407580. doi: 10.1155/2015/407580. Epub 2015 Oct 25. 26583056
  16. Charron CS, Vinyard BT, Ross SA, Seifried HE, Jeffery EH, Novotny JA. Broccoli consumption affects the human gastrointestinal microbiota Br J Nutr. 2018 Dec;120(12):1370-1379. doi: 10.1017/S0007114518002921. 30499426
  17. ?anlier N, Gökcen BB, Sezgin AC. Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(3):506-527. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1383355. Epub 2017 Oct 20. 28945458
  18. Van Straten M, Josling P. Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey Adv Ther. 2002 May-Jun;19(3):151-9. doi: 10.1007/BF02850271. 12201356
  19. Percival SS. Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and ??-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention J Nutr. 2016 Feb;146(2):433S-436S. doi: 10.3945/jn.115.210427. Epub 2016 Jan 13. 26764332
  20. Dendelé B, Tekpli X, Hardonnière K, Holme JA, Debure L, Catheline D, Arlt VM, Nagy E, Phillips DH, Ovrebø S, Mollerup S, Poët M, Chevanne M, Rioux V, Dimanche-Boitrel MT, Sergent O, Lagadic-Gossmann D. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells Chem Biol Interact. 2014 Jan 25;207:41-51. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2013.11.002. Epub 2013 Nov 15. 24246761
  21. Maywald M, Wessels I, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Oct 24;18(10):2222. doi: 10.3390/ijms18102222. 29064429
  22. Kumar A, Kubota Y, Chernov M, Kasuya H. The Role of Zinc in Antiviral Immunity Med Hypotheses. 2020 Nov;144:109848. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2020.109848. Epub 2020 May 25. 32512490
  23. Sen CK, Khanna S, Roy S. Regulatory role of vitamin E in the immune system and inflammation Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1031:127-42. doi: 10.1196/annals.1331.013. 15753140
MyFoodData provides free nutrition data tools and articles to help you organize and understand the foods you eat.

Try the recipe nutrition calculator, or daily meal planner.

Create a free account to log and track foods.