It’s no secret that an individual’s diet is directly tied to their health and wellness.
And, with the heightened focus surrounding all things immune function, many individuals are looking for ways to boost or fortify their immune system.
The best way to "boost" your immune system is by taking a proactive approach -- one in which you're implementing daily lifestyle habits that support optimal immune function.
Sure, some supplements have been noted to help reduce the duration and/or severity of the common cold and flu (vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, etc.) <2>. Still, the best "remedy" (i.e., the best way to boost your immune system) is a heaping dose of prevention.
Included in this list of things you should be doing every day are hand washing, exercise, stress management, and sleep.
But, perhaps the most significant thing you can do is eat a healthy, well-rounded diet -- one rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats.
Note: You’ll often hear the term “superfood” thrown around when it comes to eating certain foods, which may lead you to believe certain foods have magical powers or will grant you supreme immunity compared to others.
But, there are no magical or superfoods.
What people mean by "superfoods" (usually fruits and vegetables) is that these foods are particularly high in valuable micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, polyphenols, etc.).
Therefore, by eating a diverse diet that includes plenty of whole foods, you'll supply the body (and immune system) with the essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it needs to function optimally.
In regards to antioxidants, these help limit the spread of free radicals and oxidative stress, which otherwise left unchecked could lead to the development of several chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes.
Secondary effects of these chronic lifestyle diseases may also include degeneration of the eyes, kidneys, and arteries. <1>
Fruits and veggies also contain fiber, which isn't digested by our bodies but instead serves as food (prebiotics) for your microbiome (good gut bacteria).
Why is this important?
Well, several studies have shown that higher intakes of fruits and vegetables not only help limit oxidative stress, but they also support gut health and immune function. <1,3,4,5>
See, your mother was right when she always reminded you to eat your veggies!
With that in mind, and to help you knock out your meal prep each week, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite immune system-boosting vegetables.
7 Vegetables That Boost Your Immune System
You had to know this was coming -- broccoli has been and continues to be a staple vegetable for individuals living the fit life.
It’s rich in many micronutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and potassium.
Vitamin C (which can be found in many fruits and veggies) in particular has been related to lower levels of markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. <6>
This "super veggie" also contains potent antioxidants like kaempferol and quercetin, which are known for their anti-allergic and antiviral activities. <7>
Broccoli also contains a fair amount of fiber (which benefits gut health, and subsequently, immune function!).
Spinach is rich in vitamins A, C, and K1, as well as other key micronutrients, including folic acid, iron, and calcium. <8>
Similar to broccoli, spinach also contains the antioxidants quercetin and kaempferol. <7,9>
Beyond that, spinach contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which support eye health, and it also contains nitrates that support blood flow.
A member of the onion family, garlic is a food found in almost every cuisine across the globe.
It delivers a pungent, intense, and delicious flavor.
Aside from its potent palate punch, garlic also contains many compounds that support immune system function.
Various studies to date have shown that the compounds within garlic may enhance the functioning of the immune system by stimulating certain immune cell types, including macrophages, lymphocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, and eosinophils . <10>
Eggplant is a delicious purple vegetable that is often overlooked, save for those ordering the fried eggplant sticks appetizer or eggplant parmesan at their local Italian restaurants.
While these might not be the healthiest way to enjoy eggplant, there are a number of healthy (non-fried) ways to enjoy this vegetable.
Eggplants are particularly rich in anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid with antioxidant properties that also possesses immunomodulatory activity. <11>
Cabbage is another member of the cruciferous family of vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) that is rife with antioxidants and other assorted health-promoting properties.
Like its brethren, red cabbage is low in calories, high in micronutrients, and rich in fiber.
And similar to eggplant, red cabbage is also rich in anthocyanins.
Another common vegetable to many individual's diets is the humble carrot.
As you’re likely aware, carrots are packed with vitamin A and beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that imparts the vibrant orange color into carrots, and some research indicates it is also related to decreased levels of markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. <1>
The final entry on our list is yet another member of the cruciferous family of vegetables -- Brussels sprouts.
These “mini cabbages” contain high amounts of several essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, and K as well as folate, potassium, and manganese.
Brussels sprouts also contain the antioxidant kaempferol, which helps protect against free radicals, thereby reducing oxidative damage to cells. <12>
Some other evidence indicates that eating Brussels sprouts may support the body’s natural detoxification pathways. <13>
"Boosting" the immune system entails following a set of daily habits, the foundation of which is a healthy diet.
Vegetables, in particular, are a key part of a healthy diet as they are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that support health and help improve the body’s resistance to infection.
This list is a small sample of the many wonderful, healthy, and tasty vegetables to include in your diet.
Make sure that you're getting a right mix of vegetables (as well as fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats) in your diet to take advantage of each of the unique benefits that each food has to offer.
- Åsgård R, Rytter E, Basu S, Abramsson-Zetterberg L, Möller L, Vessby B. High intake of fruit and vegetables is related to low oxidative stress and inflammation in a group of patients with type 2 diabetes. Scand J Food Nutr. 2007;51(4):149–158. doi:10.1080/17482970701737285
- Webb AL, Villamor E. Update: effects of antioxidant and non-antioxidant vitamin supplementation on immune function. Nutr Rev 2007;65:181–217.
- Lampe JW. Health effects of vegetables and fruit: assessing mechanisms of action in human experimental studies. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70:475S–90S.
- Watzl B, Bub A, Brandstetter BR, Rechkemmer G. Modulation of human T-lymphocyte functions by the consumption of carotenoid-rich vegetables. Br J Nutr 1999;82:383–9.
- Hosseini, B., Berthon, B. S., Saedisomeolia, A., Starkey, M. R., Collison, A., Wark, P. A. B., & Wood, L. G. (2018). Effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on inflammatory biomarkers and immune cell populations: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108(1), 136–155. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqy082
- Holt EM, Steffen LM, Moran A, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and its relation to markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(3):414–421. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.11.036
- Zakaryan, H., Arabyan, E., Oo, A. et al. Flavonoids: promising natural compounds against viral infections. Arch Virol 162, 2539–2551 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00705-017-3417-y
- Tang, G. (2010). Chapter 25 - Spinach and Carrots: Vitamin A and Health. In R. R. Watson & V. R. B. T.-B. F. in P. H. Preedy (Eds.) (pp. 381–392). San Diego: Academic Press. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-374628-3.00025-6
- Hosseinzade, A., Sadeghi, O., Naghdipour Biregani, A., Soukhtehzari, S., Brandt, G. S., & Esmaillzadeh, A. (2019). Immunomodulatory Effects of Flavonoids: Possible Induction of T CD4+ Regulatory Cells Through Suppression of mTOR Pathway Signaling Activity . Frontiers in Immunology . Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fimmu.2019.00051
- Arreola R, Quintero-Fabián S, López-Roa RI, et al. Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. J Immunol Res. 2015;2015:401630. doi:10.1155/2015/401630
- Ding S, Jiang H, Fang J. Regulation of Immune Function by Polyphenols. J Immunol Res. 2018;2018:1264074. Published 2018 Apr 12. doi:10.1155/2018/1264074
- Kim, J. K., Shin, E.-C., Kim, C. R., Park, G. G., Choi, S. J., Park, C.-S., & Shin, D.-H. (2013). Effects of brussels sprouts and their phytochemical components on oxidative stress-induced neuronal damages in PC12 cells and ICR mice. Journal of Medicinal Food, 16(11), 1057–1061. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2012.0280
- Nijhoff, W. A., Grubben, M. J., Nagengast, F. M., Jansen, J. B., Verhagen, H., van Poppel, G., & Peters, W. H. (1995). Effects of consumption of Brussels sprouts on intestinal and lymphocytic glutathione S-transferases in humans. Carcinogenesis, 16(9), 2125–2128. https://doi.org/10.1093/carcin/16.9.2125