Best Foods for Your Immune System

| WRITTEN BY: Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN

These six plant-powered foods are some of the best foods for your immune system, and can help support your immune system health.

Some people “never get sick”—call it luck, fate, or good genes. They won the lottery. As for the rest of us, we can keep slowly and steadily socking away “immunity dividends,” letting it build interest, and seeing the benefits over time.

In addition to getting adequate sleep and keeping stress levels at bay, plant-powered foods are uniquely equipped with key nutrients to keep your immune system running strong. 

Invest in your “wellness bank” by including these top immune-supporting fruits and vegetables in your diet. All fruits and vegetables help boost immunity, but here are 6 to focus on to start.

6 Best Foods for Your Immune System

  1. Grapes
  2. Mushrooms
  3. Sweet Potatoes
  4. Red Bell Peppers
  5. Carrots
  6. Tomatoes

1. Grapes

Grapes may support immune health in multiple ways. They contain over 1,600 natural plant compounds that help protect the health and function of cells. As a natural source of polyphenols (resveratrol and quercetin), studies suggest grapes may positively influence immune function.

Containing 82 percent water, grapes are also hydrating, which studies suggest is critical to the immune response.

Often enjoyed as a no-fuss snack off the vine, grapes can also be added to sweet or savory dishes for a pop of color, flavor, and immune-supporting nutrients.  

(Disclosure: I’m delighted to work with Grapes from California. All opinions are my own.)

2. Mushrooms

Mushrooms contain a variety of nutrients that are important for supporting a healthy immune system, including vitamin D, selenium and B vitamins.

In fact, mushrooms are the only source of vitamin D in the produce aisle. All mushrooms contain some vitamin D, but mushrooms have the unique ability to increase vitamin D amounts due to UV-light or sunlight exposure, just like humans.

Toss raw mushrooms in a salad or wrap, or they add them to tacos, burgers, or pasta sauces for a nutrient-dense, meat substitute with a rich umami flavor.

3. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes contain vitamin A which helps regulate your immune system and keeps your skin and mucosal linings healthy. Plus, they provide fiber which can support a healthy gut microbiome to provide immune support. 

While you may first think about orange sweet potatoes, don’t leave the purple sweet potatoes behind! They have a near similar taste, and they also provide immune support. Plus, the phytonutrients that give them their purple color – anthocyanins – are naturally anti-inflammatory.

4. Red Bell Peppers

While oranges and other citrus fruits often steal the immune-boosting limelight for vitamin C content, bell peppers (particularly red bell peppers) are an excellent source of vitamin C. This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that stimulates antibody production. One cup of chopped red bell pepper contains more than your daily requirement of vitamin C, and nearly three times more vitamin C than an orange.

Red bell peppers also contain vitamin A and fiber for immune support.

For a stress-free snack that includes other immune-supporting foods, enjoy raw red bell peppers strips with hummus or tuna, or make stuffed red bell peppers with rice, quinoa, or couscous mixed with tomatoes and fresh herbs. Although still a good source, roasting red bell peppers reduces their vitamin C content by about 25 percent.

5. Carrots

A root vegetable long associated with eye health, the vitamin A in carrots also helps regulate the immune system by keeping skin and mucosal linings healthy. Like other veggies, carrots provide vitamin C, potassium and fiber for immune support.

While their best-known color may be orange, carrots also come in purple, yellow, red and white, which are all super choices for keeping your immune system strong. Like purple sweet potatoes, purple carrots are uniquely high in anthocyanins, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that benefit heart health and immune support.

Enjoy raw baby carrots with peanut butter for a healthy snack in seconds, or rainbow roasted carrots for a colorful, nutrient-packed side dish that will keep you feeling your best.

6. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a great food for immune health due to their high content of vitamin C, vitamin A, and fiber. In addition, tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene, which may stimulate the immune system by acting against oxidative damage. This powerful carotenoid has been linked to many health benefits, including heart, skin, and prostate health.

Most red and pink foods contain lycopene, but tomatoes and tomato products are the richest sources. Studies show the absorption of lycopene is higher when heated and in processed foods such as tomato paste and tomato juice heated in oil.

For a comfort food that supports your immune health, go for the red sauce with your favorite Italian dish or a warm bowl of tomato soup.

Recipes For Immune System Health

Looking for simple recipes that include these foods? Try some of the ones below:

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