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10 foods to support your immune system

Portion of bell peppers stuffed with spinach and beans
Can your diet help boost your immunity? Check out our top 10 foods to strengthen your immune system! From superfoods like salmon to refreshing citrus fruits and more.
No one likes to be ill! You can’t avoid coughs and sniffles completely, but it pays to keep your immune system at its best.

Exercising, not smoking, limiting alcohol, and getting a good night’s sleep are all key to a healthy immune system. However, one of the biggest ways you can support your immunity is to eat a healthy diet.1,2

So, what’s on the menu?

1. Lemons & limes

Lemons and limes contain vitamin C, famous for contributing to the normal function of the immune system.3

Try our Lemon & Ginger Smoothie Bowl with echinacea for citrusy benefits.*

Or if you’re looking for something more classic, try our Vegan Lemon Curd Meringue Cupcakes. *Echinacea isn't suitable for children under 12 or certain other people. Please speak to your GP before taking. If you still want to enjoy this fruity recipe, just skip adding echinacea in step 1.

2. Bell peppers

Brightly coloured bell peppers contain lots of vitamin A, which helps your immune system work properly.4

3. Foods containing ginger

Keep foods containing ginger in your kitchen. They’re ideal for poorly stomachs – or just when you fancy a curry.5

Not only are they naturally fiery, but they may help relieve nausea.5

4. Good bacteria

Maybe these don’t sound the most appetising. But probiotics (their official name) are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut after you’ve been ill.6

A healthy gut isn’t just about avoiding awkward trips to the loo. It contains almost 70% of our immune cells and 95% of our serotonin, the “happy hormone”.7,8

Although we can’t say for sure how beneficial probiotics may be (since more research is needed), try getting in that good bacteria by eating a variety of different probiotics, like yoghurts, kefir, and kimchi.

Note that the bacteria must be alive to offer any potential benefits. Check the label for “live” or “active” ingredients. By experimenting with different probiotics, you may find what’s best for you.

However, if you’ve got a weakened immune system, speak to your GP before taking probiotics.6

5. Pumpkin & sunflower seeds

These are a source of zinc, which helps support a normal immune system.9,10 Other zinc-rich foods include meat, shellfish, lentils, and beans.10,11

6. Cinnamon

Next time you make a hot chocolate or tea, try a sprinkle of cinnamon. One study found that ethanolic extracts of cinnamon had potent antioxidant activity.12 Feel like a treat? Add to baked apples for a wintery twist.

7. Oranges

Our bodies can’t store vitamin C, so we need foods that are rich in it every day. Oranges are a famous source!13 If you’re not a fan, try eating more tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and potatoes.13

8. Watermelon

Though they’re about 91% water, watermelons are a source of vitamins A and C.14 As we already know, they’re both important for normal immune health.4,3

Their high water content also makes them ideal for those who struggle to meet their daily hydration needs – or just a refresher on a hot day.

9. Salmon

Need something quick? Keep fillets of wild salmon in the freezer for easy, tasty immune-supporting evening meals. It’s best known for its omega-3 content, but it earns its hero status for other reasons, too.15

A serving contains over half your recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of selenium, which helps the immune system function properly and helps protect cells from oxidative stress.11,17

10. Spinach

Packed with vitamin C and vitamin A, spinach has what it takes to support a smooth-running immune system.17,4,3 It’s also a good source of folate, which helps the body produce normal red blood cells.17,18

Add extra nutrition to curries, stews, and pasta dishes, or even blitzed into a smoothie. If you aren’t a fan, you could have cauliflower or sprouts (though we’d skip the smoothie).

Quick tips

  • Is your plate mostly brown or beige? Then it’s likely that antioxidant levels are low. Try to eat the rainbow! 
  • Herbs and spices are good for you, too. Keep allspice, cloves, and mint on hand for extra antioxidants.19 
  • Add shredded greens to soups and stir fries. 
  • Try replacing meat with tofu or another alternative, even if only a few times a week. 
  • Add berries to porridge, cereal, or baked goods. 
  • Eat fruit or veg with every meal or snack. It’s about including foods, not restricting them. 
  • Try a daily green or matcha tea – they're packed with immune-supporting antioxidants.20,21

The final say

“Superfoods” won’t work magic, and they don’t have to meet any criteria to be called them. But a combination of the colourful, vitamin-rich foods above can help keep your immunity at its best.

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Disclaimer

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
 

Sources

1. https://www.bupa.co.uk/newsroom/ourviews/look-after-immune-system
 

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