No one likes to be ill, and feeling under the weather can have a big impact on every area of your life.
If you want to try and avoid developing a common cold, the flu or another illness, it pays to think about how you can keep your immune system healthy and ready for action.
Exercising, not smoking, limiting how much alcohol you consume and making sure you get a good night’s sleep are all key in supporting your immune system.
However, one of the biggest ways you can support your immunity is to eat a healthy diet.
Superfoods, which are so-called as they are believed to be nutritionally dense, contain a variety of nutrients such as vitamins, fibre and antioxidants that can benefit your overall health.1
Check out the following immunity-supporting natural superfoods:
Lemons and limes
Lemons and limes contain vitamin C, which everyone knows is useful for supporting immune health.
But did you know that they also contain polyphenols, which help to regulate immune responses?2
Add slices to your drinking water or squeeze over vegetables or salads.
Try our Lemon & Ginger Smoothie Bowl with echinacea for added immunity benefits or if you’re looking for something more classic, try our Vegan Lemon curd Meringue Cupcake recipe.
Raw garlic is brilliant at giving your body’s immune system a helping hand. It has natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, helping you ward off illness and recover quicker.
Raw garlic can increase the number of t-cells in your blood, which in turn fights viruses and could help reduce the length of time you have a cold.3 Garlic’s health powers are best when it is raw.
Crush or slice garlic cloves and add to salad dressings, or here are 7 more tasty ways to add garlic into your diet.
See how smart nature can be? After all that raw garlic, you might fancy a natural breath freshener. Stock up on fresh flat-leaf parsley.
This fragrant herb contains lots of coumarin, which can support the activity of your white blood cells. A salad dressing of crushed garlic, fresh lemon juice, and chopped fresh parsley will do you good!
Mushrooms are an interesting superfood ingredient, because – just like us – they synthesise Vitamin D when they are exposed to UV light.4
You should, therefore, choose wild mushrooms or mushrooms grown in UV light. They are the only plant source of vitamin D, which supports your immune system.
Try our Mushroom, Leek and Parsnip Pie.
Brightly coloured bell peppers contain lots of vitamin A, which can help repair your body’s mucosal barriers (easily damaged by infection).
These little onions contain lots of allicin, a natural antibacterial compound. Slice or chop them to get the most out of them.
The good news is that shallots taste milder and sweeter than big onions, lending themselves to a wider variety of recipes.
In fact, all types of onions have anti-inflammatory properties!5
Keep a few inches of fresh root ginger in your kitchen.
Not only is it naturally warming, but it acts as a natural decongestant and soothes digestion.6
Ideal for coughs, colds and poorly stomachs.
Fresh red and green chillies are incredible health boosters.
They contain lots of vitamin A and C (nutrients that can boost the immune system) and capsaicin which can help clear congestion and phlegm.
You can take friendly bacteria by eating yoghurt which contains friendly bacteria.
Yoghurts made from goat’s milk are particularly high in these. Whichever you opt for, your immune system will benefit from the increase in friendly bacteria.
There are also plenty of other foods with these natural probiotics in them. Check out our article on 14 of the best probiotic foods & supplements for more information.
Elderberries are full of flavonoids and they can help stop viruses in their tracks.
Even if you do develop a cold or flu, you may find that your body recovers much quicker if you’ve been eating elderberries.
Handpicked content: 5 sweet & savoury elderberry recipes
Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
These superfoods help boost your zinc levels, which can help you fight off colds and infections quicker.
Other foods that are rich in zinc include red meat, fish, chickpeas and eggs. Alternatively, you could take a zinc tablet daily.
Next time you go to make yourself a hot chocolate or cup of tea, try sprinkling in some cinnamon.
Cinnamon is great for your gut and immune system as a whole. It can reduce bacteria’s ability to multiply, and if you do end up suffering from a cold, it should help it clear up quicker.
You could try mixing it with raw honey, which has similar properties, or try our Vegan Cinnamon Rolls recipe.
For more ideas, read our article on 25 ways to use cinnamon for cooking & baking.
You need to make sure that your body has plenty of vitamin C as it helps your body fight off infections.
Vitamin C cannot be stored by your body, so you need to try and incorporate foods that are rich in vitamin C every day.
If you are not a fan of oranges then you could try eating more tomatoes, peas and peppers, take a vitamin C supplement or drink hot lemon.
Watermelons contain citrulline, which helps keep your heart healthy, and they are rich in vitamins A, C and B6 too.
Their red flesh supplies your body with lycopene, helping your bones stay strong and your immune system balanced.
Check out the Watermelon & Mint smoothie recipe in our Five super drinks to support your immune system article.
When it comes to choosing your five-a-day, make sure broccoli becomes a firm favourite as it is bursting with nutrients and contains choline which is good for your gut.
Instead of cooking your broccoli, try to eat it raw if you can, as it is more nutritious this way.
Keep fillets of wild salmon in the freezer for easy, tasty immune-supporting evening meals.
The pigment that gives salmon meat its pink colour is called astaxanthin, and it can help your immune cells function properly.
A wonder vegetable, spinach contains lots of vitamins and minerals, so try to eat some at least twice a week if you can.
Spinach is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and beta carotene which can help your body fight infections.
It also contains folate (the natural form of folic acid) which helps repair cells and increases white blood cell production. If you are not a fan of spinach, you could have cauliflower or sprouts instead.
If you want to stay as healthy as possible, you need your gut to be in tip-top condition.7
Eating yogurt daily can help, as yoghurt contains good bacteria (probiotics) which fight against bad bacteria in your gut.
This can support your immune system as well as helping your body digest the food that you eat.
Adding superfoods to your diet
Many of the best foods for immune system health should be easily available in most UK supermarkets.
However, if you struggle to find any it’s important not to overspend on them.
The truth is that, despite their name, superfoods can often be overpriced and eating the right amount of fruit and vegetable will help support your immune system.
The cheapest and best way to do this is by locally sourcing your produce, which will often be in season and provide you with the highest amount of nutrients.
Essentially all fruits and vegetables are superfoods and you should look to eat them where you can.
The real trick is to avoid processed foods and add more natural foods to your diet.
These tips can help you get more superfoods into your diet:
- Look at the colours on your plate. Is all of your food brown or beige? Then it is likely that antioxidant levels are low. Add in foods with rich colour – choose the veg you like!
- Add shredded greens to soups and stir fries.
- Try replacing your beef or poultry with tofu or another meat alternative.
- Add berries to oatmeal, cereal, salads or baked goods.
- Make sure you have a fruit or a vegetable every time you eat, including meals and snacks.
- Have a daily green or matcha tea.
- Make turmeric, cumin, oregano, ginger, clove, and cinnamon your go-to spices to amp up the antioxidant content of your meals.
- Snack on nuts, seeds (especially Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds) and dried fruit (with no sugar or salt added).
Are superfoods for everyone?
For many, superfoods are completely harmless. However, you should not just rely on superfoods alone and you should look to include a varied diet.
If you have any allergies or you are prone to allergic reactions, you should consider what may trigger your allergies.
Our choice of the 18 best superfoods to support your immune system are:
- Lemons and limes
- Bell peppers
- Ginger root
- Friendly bacteria
- Pumpkin or sunflower seeds