Foods to Support Immune Health

A strong immune system is your best defense against illness. And one of the best ways to boost immunity is through the food you eat. Certain nutrients pack an extra germ-fighting punch.

Here’s what you need to know about foods good for immune health.

What Is Your Immune System?

Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against infectious diseases like colds, flu, and COVID-19. It is a network of cells, organs, and tissues that work together to keep you healthy. The immune system includes the skin, bone marrow, white blood cells, and the lymphatic system.

Your immune system fights external invaders, including bacteria, viruses, and other germs. It needs good nutrition, restful sleep, and lots of water to work efficiently. The immune system suffers when you get tired, stressed, or don’t eat well.

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What to Eat for Immune Health

There is no food that will singlehandedly fight off infection. A well-balanced diet of lean protein, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables is your best bet for immune system health.

However, eating certain foods for immune health may help strengthen your body’s defenses. Here are some of the best foods for boosting immunity.


Blueberries contain antioxidants to help fight off free radicals. Free radicals are unstable cells in the body that contribute to aging and disease. Blueberries also contain flavonoids, compounds that help reduce inflammation and speed recovery from disease.


If you’re a fan of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit, you’re in luck. Citrus fruits contain vitamin C, which functions as an antioxidant and boosts the development of infection-fighting white blood cells. Citrus fruits also contain inflammation-fighting flavonoids.


Eggs are a good source of protein, which helps maintain and repair muscles and bones. Eggs have high levels of vitamin A, vitamin B-12, and selenium, all of which strengthen the immune system. They also contain antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals.


Garlic has long been an ingredient in traditional medicine around the world. For good reason: Garlic has antiviral properties and improves white blood cell count. Dieticians consider it a prebiotic, a substance that helps the “good bacteria” grow in your gut.


People use ginger in a variety of ways — from flavoring foods to drinking “ginger shots” to boost the immune system. The spice may improve appetite and digestion and provide anti-inflammatory relief.


The natural sweetener has antimicrobial properties and may help reduce cold and flu symptoms. Bonus: You can also use it to ease nighttime coughs and improve your sleep quality.


Salmon has omega-3 fatty acids, which may boost cardiovascular health. It’s also packed with vitamin D, which can help fight respiratory infections. Other sources of vitamin D include tuna, cheese, egg yolks, and spending time outdoors in the sun.


Both black and green teas contain flavonoids that improve immune function. Green teas also have amino acids which help create germ-fighting chemicals.


Turmeric is a yellow spice used in curries and other Indian dishes. People have relied on it for years as an anti-inflammatory to treat arthritis. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has antioxidant properties and may help fight microbes and viruses.


Your digestive tract is full of bacteria. Eating plain yogurt has probiotic cultures that increase the “good bacteria” in the intestines. That, in turn, suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause infections.

Best bet: Greek yogurt, which has more protein than other yogurts. Try to select yogurt with no added sugar.

The Secret Ingredient to Immune System Health: Water

One of the best ways to keep your immune system running smoothly is to drink a lot of water.

Staying well-hydrated lets nutrients reach all parts of your body. That keeps all your body’s systems and organs working well and reduces the chance of illness.

Drinking enough water also keeps your mucus membranes wet. These membranes are one of the first barriers against germs entering your body. Keeping them hydrated reduces your chances of catching a cold or the flu. Also, drinking more water helps flush toxins from the body.

Can Supplements Help Boost Immunity?

The human body absorbs nutrients from whole foods. Most people can get the vitamins and minerals they need from fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.

However, there are certain times when supplements may help your immune system work better.  Supplements that may boost immunity include zinc, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin D.

You may benefit from supplements if you:

  • You are over the age of 65.
  • You have certain medical conditions like HIV or cancer.
  • Don’t have access to healthy food choices.

Check with your doctor before starting any supplements to boost immunity. It’s important to take the right amount of supplements for your age and weight.

Other Ways to Boost Your Immunity

A well-balanced diet is one of the best ways to support your body’s immune function. Other strategies to avoid illness include:

Exercise. Physical activity causes white blood cells to move around the body more rapidly, potentially detecting illness sooner. Exercise also slows down the release of stress hormones and may even help flush bacteria out of your lungs.

Get enough sleep. Your body repairs itself during sleep. Poor sleep can leave you feeling run down and more susceptible to illness, so aim for 7-8 hours per night.

Learn to manage stress. Stress hormones can wear your immune system down and increase your chances of getting sick. Find something calming that works for you — yoga, listening to soothing music, or meditation.

Practice good hygiene. The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized how important handwashing is. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before handling food to minimize spreading germs.

National Library of Medicine, Common foods for boosting human immunity: A review, Link 

National Institutes of Health, Dietary Supplements for Immune Function and Infectious Diseases, Link

National Library of Medicine, The relationship between nutrition and the immune system, Link

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, How to Keep Your Immune System Healthy, Link

British Heart Foundation, What should I eat to boost my immunity? Link

Harvard School of Public Health, Nutrition and Immunity, Link 

CNN, Boost your immune system for winter with food, Link

AARP, 8 Superfoods for Your Immune System, Link

BBC, How important is diet for a healthy immune system? Link

National Library of Medicine, Exercise and immunity, Link

About UPMC Nutrition Services

Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients toward a healthier life.