Foods to boost the immune system

Before we head into a long cold winter your immune system might not be in tip top shape. A good night’s sleep and plenty of exercise will help get you back on track, but does reworking your diet to include immune-supportive foods help? Of course, none of these picks are an instant cure for cold and flu…but they have components that feed proper immune function and theoretically should help. Feast upon these powerful plant foods to boost the immune system!


Fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha and kimchi support the immune system by adding beneficial bacteria to your digestive tract. These bacteria help support the immune system by competing with other harmful bacteria, viruses and funghi, in addition to helping your immune system respond more appropriately to infection. Take fermented food daily or take a probiotic capsule/powder.

Zinc and Protein

Both zinc and protein, which are often found together in food, support immune function. Zinc is a co-factor in immune reactions and protein assists in building immune cells. Eat more pumpkin seeds for a rich source of zinc and enjoy more nuts, seeds, beans, organic tofu and seafood to get more zinc-rich protein into your day. In addition, research suggests that a high dose zinc, taken within 24 hours of first cold symptoms, helps to reduce the duration of your cold. Ask your pharmacist or dietitian for more info.

Aromatic Herbs and spices

Food can be medicine when eaten over months and years. Of course, there are a few more potent medicinal foods that are well known in traditional cuisines. These are the aromatics – ginger, turmeric, oregano, rosemary, garlic – foods that have been used as traditional remedies the world over. Some, like turmeric, are especially good at fighting inflammation and help your immune system respond appropriately to threats as it contains a compound called curcumin. Others, like oregano and ginger, have volatile oils that are natural antimicrobials. Add these foods generously to your recipes…and enjoy extra delicious, and extra nourishing, eating! Drink green tea for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.


Mushrooms are unique fungi with a few potentially beneficial compounds. Polysaccharides in mushrooms, such as beta-glucans, support immune function – as does a vitamin D precursor found in these fungi. Add basic buttons or more exotic varieties such as shiitake to soups, stews, casseroles or even a homemade pizza.

When colds strike…

If you do get ill, turn to foods that help you feel a bit of relief. Drink lots of hot, steamy liquids to help beat congestion and keep you hydrated. If you can stomach them, eat spicy foods to clear the sinuses. Ginger helps to settle the stomach – a honey, lemon and ginger tea is supremely soothing. When you lose your appetite, blend up veg for a soup or fruit into a nourishing smoothie and add protein powder so you can sip slowly to keep your strength up.

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