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10 Foods That Can Boost Your Immune System

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By Alina Petre

Keeping your immune system healthy is very important, no matter the season.

Naturally, what you eat can majorly influence your immune health.

Certain foods may actually decrease your chances of getting sick, while others can help you recover more quickly if you do get ill.

This article lists 10 foods you should eat if you want to boost your immune system.

1. Iron-Rich Foods

Iron is a mineral that plays an important role in immune function. A diet containing too little iron can contribute to anemia and weaken the immune system (1, 2, 3, 4).

That's why it's important to optimize your intake of iron-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds, cruciferous vegetables and dried fruit.

You can also improve your absorption of iron from foods by using cast-iron pots and pans to cook and avoiding tea or coffee with meals.

Combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can help boost your absorption even further.

That said, it's important to remember that overly high blood iron levels can be harmful and may actually suppress the immune system (5, 6, 7)

Therefore, it's best to use iron supplements only if you have an iron deficiency or on the advice of a doctor.

Bottom Line: Optimal blood iron levels help improve your immune function. Therefore, it's advantageous to include iron-rich foods in your diet.

2. Probiotic-Rich Foods

Foods that are rich in probiotics are thought to help enhance your immune function.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in your gut and help stimulate your immune system.

They also help maintain the health of your gut's lining, which may help prevent unwanted substances from "leaking" into the body and provoking an immune response (8, 9, 10, 11).

In fact, recent reviews show that probiotics may reduce the risk of developing upper respiratory tract infections by up to 42 percent (12, 13, 14, 15).

Studies also show that when people do get sick, those who regularly consume probiotics are up to 33 percent less likely to need antibiotics. In certain cases, regularly consuming probiotics may also lead to a faster recovery from illness (12, 13, 14).

Most studies on the topic provided participants with probiotic supplements. However, it's also possible to increase your intake by making probiotic foods a regular part of your diet (16).

Great sources of probiotics include sauerkraut, naturally fermented pickles, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kimchi, tempeh, miso, natto and kombucha.

Bottom Line: Probiotics can help strengthen your immune system. This may reduce the likelihood and severity of your symptoms and help you recover faster when you do fall ill.

3. Citrus Fruit

Fruits like oranges, grapefruits and tangerines are high in vitamin C, a well-known immunity booster.

Vitamin C is recognized for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps maintain the integrity of your skin, which acts as a protective barrier against infection (17).

In addition, vitamin C can act as an antioxidant, helping protect your immune cells against harmful compounds formed in response to viral or bacterial infections (17).

Therefore, getting enough vitamin C is a great way to strengthen your immune system and may reduce your likelihood of infection (18, 19, 20, 21, 22).

Some studies also report that upping your vitamin C intake during the common cold may help you get better more quickly (19, 20, 21, 22, 23).

That said, it might be more advantageous to increase your intake from plant foods rather than supplements, since plants contain other beneficial compounds that supplements may not.

Other foods high in vitamin C include bell peppers, guavas, dark leafy greens, broccoli, berries, tomatoes, papaya and snap peas.

Bottom Line: Citrus fruit and other vitamin-C-rich foods can help boost your immune system. This likely lowers your risk of infection and may even speed up your recovery.

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