by Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES|
January 5, 2023
When it comes to supporting our immune system, there’s a lot more you can do than simply popping vitamin C during cold and flu season. Getting nutrition from food first is always recommended before turning to supplements, making it vital to fill your diet with superfoods that benefit your immune system and meet your nutritional needs.
To give your immune system a boost during the brutal cold and flu season, we spoke to numerous registered dietitians to find out which superfoods to stock up on this winter. Let’s take a look at exactly what superfoods nutrition experts recommend to boost your immune system.
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Artichokes are especially nutrient-dense and contain fiber-rich prebiotics. Some research shows that prebiotics are actually just as important as probiotics as they serve as the “food” for the good bugs in our gut.
“Artichokes are delicious, fun to eat, and a nutrient-dense powerhouse that boosts your immunity right from the gut,” says Arielle “Dani” Lebovitz, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDCES, author of Where Does Broccoli Come From? A Book of Vegetables. “A natural prebiotic, non-digestible carbohydrate that feeds the good bacteria in your gut, artichokes support your microbiome and stimulate the immune system. Also, each medium artichoke boasts almost 7 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and is one of the most antioxidant-rich vegetables.”
Salmon, along with other fatty fish, is especially high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, healthy fats, and vitamin D — all nutrients that support good immune health.
“I love the ease of keeping single-serve Chilean salmon filets in my freezer for quick and simple meals,” says Bianca Tamburello, RDN on behalf of the Chilean Salmon Marketing Council. “Salmon has two hard-to-come-by nutrients that support the immune system- vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that support the immune system by reducing chronic inflammation and vitamin D is important for the regular functioning of the immune system. As a dietitian, I recommend choosing salmon from Chile because it’s particularly high in omega-3 fats and low in mercury.”
3. Tart cherry juice
Rich in antioxidants, tart cherry juice is great for reducing inflammation and oxidation, especially in active folks. Tart cherry juice has been shown to help with everything from cardiovascular health and muscle recovery after exercise, according to Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND.
“Tart cherry juice is rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins that have an immune-boosting effect,” says Magill. “Its anti-inflammatory properties have also been shown to protect the cardiovascular system and aid in muscle recovery. We love drinking Cheribundi at our house whether it’s for an immune-boosting pick-me-up or post-exercise recovery. It comes in handy travel-size packets of concentrated juice or in easy-to-drink bottles.”
Blueberries are rich in antioxidants called flavonoids and anthocyanins. These compounds have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and support healthy organ functions like brain health and cardiovascular function.
“Blueberries are rich in flavonoids — an antioxidant that can reduce cell damage and support your immunity,” says Melissa Mitri, MS, RD. “They also provide more than 20% of your daily dose of vitamin C, a natural immunity booster.”
Related: 4 Foods That Are Lowering Your Immune System
Naturally high in probiotics, kefir is a great source of protein that is naturally low in carbohydrates as well. Good gut health has been tied to better immune function and preventing diseases from cancer to obesity.
“It’s packed with an even wider range of probiotics than yogurt,” says Anne Danahy, RDN. “Those friendly bacteria help support your immune system and fight off harmful microbes. It’s an easy swap for milk. I love to add it to my overnight oats with fruit and nuts or use it as a base for a creamy salad dressing.”
Mushrooms are a small but mighty food that contains an impressive amount of nutrition. According to the Mushroom Council, mushrooms contain 11 different vitamins and minerals that support immune health.
“Mushrooms contain a full variety of micronutrients that help support our immune system including vitamin D, selenium, zinc, copper, and B vitamins,” says Mackenzie Burgess, RDN. “As an example, four cremini mushrooms provide 44% of your RDA for copper and 38% for selenium — two nutrients that help prevent cell damage and keep our immune system healthy.”
“I love adding mushrooms into a ‘mushroom meat blend’ for taco night! Simply saute together equal parts ground meat and finely chopped mushrooms with a sprinkle of taco seasoning,” she says.
Garlic lovers rejoice! Garlic is particularly high in sulfur-based compounds that have been shown to improve immune function among other health conditions. The superfood for immunity is super easy to add to a wide range of meals for your health.
“Garlic adds more than flavor to your foods,” says Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD. “The organosulfur compounds not only give garlic its flavor but may also have a positive effect on your immune system. Garlic may help boost the body’s natural immune cells. Plus, garlic is a prebiotic, which means it benefits your gut, too.”
High in fiber, lentils are a nutrition powerhouse both good for our gut as well as keeping us full and energized. Naturally high in protein and fiber, a serving of lentils will keep you feeling full for hours.
“They’re a good source of fiber to promote a healthy gut microbiome and iron to support a strong immune system,” says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD. “Pair them with tomatoes or peppers to further enhance iron absorption.”
Get creative with new products on the market like lentil-based pasta or lentil-based rice products.
9. Bone broth
This ancient beverage has been around for centuries, and for good reason — it is a superfood for immunity.
“Bone broth, alongside other broths, has been utilized as a curing mechanism for cold and flu symptoms for ages,” says Jamie Adams, MS, RD, LDN. “It is believed to help boost the immune system in fighting pathogens and strengthening the gut lining. Our immune system is directly linked to our digestive health. When one is impacted, so is the other. In fact, 70% of the body’s immune cells are found in the gut, and bone broth can help maintain a healthy immune system.”
We especially love FOND Bone Broth for its savory flavors that you can heat and sip right from the jar they are packaged in.
Oats are whole grain and naturally high in soluble fiber, which promotes regular digestion and a flourishing microbiome. New products on the market like oat yogurt and oat milk add even more nutrition to eating oats.
“I love drinking unsweetened oatmilk and using it in my smoothies and homemade lattes because it’s not only super creamy and delicious, it is an excellent source of vitamin D,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based dietitian and nutrition partner with Planet Oat states. “In a one-cup serving, you get 4 micrograms of vitamin D, which is 20% of the daily value.”
“This vitamin is helpful for immune health, as it helps your immune cells fight off bacteria and viruses that make their way into your body,” she continues. “To boot, vitamin D is not always easy to get from food sources, especially for plant-based eaters. And it’s a nutrient of public health concern, which means that most Americans do not get enough of it, per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. More than 90& of people don’t get enough vitamin D!”
Eggs are a good source of both selenium and vitamin D, two nutrients that make eggs a superfood for immunity, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Further, adequate protein intake has been shown to support good immune health, and eggs are a good source of protein with 7 grams per one egg.
One conventional egg contains 5% of our daily value of vitamin D. However, if you’re looking for an immunity boost, pasture-raised chickens that have access to sunlight have been shown to have three to four times more vitamin D. For example, brands like Pete and Gerry’s boast pasture-raised eggs that are rich in vitamin D making it a superfood for immunity.
Read next: The Best 5 Vitamin D Foods to Add to Your Diet ASAP