5 Foods to Boost Your Immune System

With the fall fast approaching, it’s time to look forward to cooler, shorter days, the hustle and bustle of the back-to-school season, a return to football festivities, and preparation for indoor holiday gatherings. But have you noticed that these coming events have one thing in common? They all create increased opportunities for spreading germs!

COVID-19 has understandably dominated the health conversation this last couple of years, but let’s not forget or overlook the common illnesses that circulate year in and year out, such as colds and flu. With seasonal weather changes, more people congregating indoors, and kids circulating (and bringing home) symptoms like coughs and runny noses, it’s no wonder that the fall and winter traditionally bring along an increase in illnesses—all while our “new normal” of COVID-19 still causes many to fall sick as new variants continue to emerge.

On the positive side, food can be your medicine, and that’s definitely true when you’re trying to boost your immune system—either to protect yourself from catching a cold, or to help you recover faster if one has already reared its ugly head in your household. Try eating these foods to help give your immune system a fighting chance against colds and flu this fall season, and all year round.

As researchers find ever more evidence for the connection between gut health and overall well-being, it’s a no-brainer that yogurt—full of probiotics, live microorgamisms that create a healthy gut—is a great helper for the immune system. Click To Tweet


1. Bell peppers

Studies have noted that red bell peppers contain loads of health-promoting elements, such as beta carotene, vitamin A, carotenoids, and flavonoids, which combine to make an impressive antioxidant effect to help fight a wide range of degenerative diseases. (Bonus: They’re healthy for the brain, too.) Other research has touted them as containing one of nature’s highest levels of vitamin C (169% of recommended daily intake in a medium-size red pepper), plus vitamins B6 and K, potassium, and folate. But researchers have also shown that color matters when it comes to peppers’ vitamin C content: One study found that, per 100-gram serving, green varieties contained 16.52 milligrams—significantly less than yellow bell pepper (159.61 milligrams), orange (121.38), and red (81.19). These are all reasons why I loved it when my daughter Chloe was still a young child and told me that red bell peppers were her favorite food!

2. Yogurt

As researchers find ever more evidence for the connection between gut health and overall well-being, it’s a no-brainer that yogurt—full of probiotics, live micro-organisms that create a healthy gut, and thus offering many other health perks—is a great helper for the immune system. Studies have pointed to “yogurt-induced immune enhancement,” helping keep conditions from allergies to cancer at bay, thanks to its positive effect on key markers of immune function, such as T cells and antibody production. Alternatively, you can also reach for probiotic supplements in order to boost the immune system, which can prevent illnesses from taking hold, or possibly lower the frequency and length of sicknesses that do occur. Or you can ingest other fermented foods, like kimchi or sauerkraut, to get a dose of probiotics. Since many people have food sensitivities to dairy, I often recommend lactic acid-free cow’s milk yogurt, goat, or sheep’s milk yogurt.

3. Ginger

One of my favorite ingredients for spicing up your diet, ginger is also a fantastic addition for the fall season—a cold-weather comfort food that’s also super-healthy. A range of studies have shown its efficacy for everything from treating digestive issues to fighting the signs of aging to offering antimicrobial properties, which helps tackle infectious diseases like colds. Ginger has been shown to reduce inflammation and even help fight pain, and it offers antioxidant properties, therefore helping neutralize potentially harmful free radicals. Its warming nature makes it perfect for adding to warm drinks like green tea (which offers its own immune-boosting benefits), or simply adding to hot water with lemon and honey for a natural throat soother with digestive benefits.

4. Cruciferous vegetables

A 2019 study that studied the effects of diet on mice showed that a chemical component found in cruciferous vegetables “governs the survival of a special type of white blood cell, part of the body’s frontline defense against infections and important in wound repair.” These cells are key in regulating the gut’s microorganisms and therefore are important in staving off infections. As a bonus, cruciferous veggies—a category that includes broccoli, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard and mustard greens, and more—are often harvested in fall, making them a perfect choice for this season.

5. Garlic

I’ve sung the praises of this versatile vegetable before, and for good reason—it improves brain function and may help prevent cancer and heart disease, for starters, and it’s a wonderful ingredient for adding loads of flavor to foods without ramping up your salt intake. But it’s also an impressive immunity booster, thanks to elements called organosulfur compounds, shown in studies to fight off microbial infections while offering anti-inflammatory benefits. Get a helping of this bulbous wonder (paired with a cruciferous veggie to boot) in my fall-friendly recipe for Cauliflower Garlic Mashed “Potatoes,” or try adding some cloves into a classic cold remedy, my Hearty Chicken Stew—both ideal comfort-food recipes to warm you on chillier autumn nights.

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