Foods have an immensely important role in maintaining and boosting your immunity. Certain foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and act as guards to protect you from diseases. This article explains the benefits of foods from different nutritive groups, along with a list of the best foods for boosting immunity.

  1. Balanced diet for immunity
  2. Foods to increase immunity
  3. Probiotics for immunity
  4. Vitamins and minerals for immunity
  5. Iron for immunity
Doctors for What to eat to increase immunity

Several researchers have demonstrated that a balanced diet goes a long way in boosting your immunity, since it is rich in most of the ‘protective foods’ and also prevents deficiencies. It is thus recommended to have a balanced diet including carbohydratesproteinsfats and vitamins and minerals.

(Read more: What are healthy foods)

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Following is a list of food items that will help in boosting your immunity. The effects of these foods and how they help in boosting immunity is discussed in the later sections.

  • Probiotics like
    • Dairy-based products- milk, cheese, yogurt, milk powder, traditional buttermilk, kimchi, kefir
    • Soy milk and its products
    • Cereals and nutrition bars enriched with probiotics
  • Vitamin E rich foods
  • Zinc-containing foods like
    • Oysters
    • Clams
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Seafood like crabs and lobster
    • Red meat
    • Eggs and meat
  • Omega 3 fatty acid sources like
    • Fishes like salmon, tuna, sardine, herring, mackerel and other species
    • Fish oil
    • Nuts and seeds like chia seedsflaxseeds and walnuts
    • Flaxseed oil and soybean oil
    • Fortified foods like cereals, juices, milk and soy beverages
  • Vitamin A-rich foods like
    • Vegetables containing pigments like carrots, yellow, green and red bell peppers, pumpkinsweet potato
    • Fruits like mangoes, apricots, oranges, papaya, melons, red grapefruit (chakotra)
    • Dairy products like milk and milk products including cheese, yogurt, etc 
  • Vitamin C rich food like
    • Fruits like lemon, oranges, grapefruit, papaya, strawberries, gooseberry
    • Vegetables like broccoli, green chilly, bell pepper, tomato 
  • Iron-rich foods like
    • Lean meat
    • Lean chicken
    • Leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, squash, lettuce
    • Whole grains,
    • Legumes like beans, peas, sprouts
    • Jaggerydates
    • Use iron utensil for cooking purpose
  • Selenium-rich foods like
    • Tuna, shrimp, turkey, chicken
    • Bananas
    • Rice
    • Whole wheat products like roti, bread
    • Potato 
    • Chia seeds,
    • Mushroom
    • Tea
  • Some other immune booster food
  • ​Health Drinks - "Golden Milk" (turmeric milk) works as an immune booster. Green Tea with any herb (ginger, cinnamon cardamom, clove) will be a good health drink to improve the immune system

Other than including these foods in your diet, it is recommended to take a balanced diet and ensure enough caloric intake each day, to meet your daily requirements. This will help in avoiding nutritional deficiencies and will maintain immune functioning.

As it is said, a healthy body starts in the gut, it is no surprise that foods have the potential to boost your immunity. This is further evident from the fact that individuals with immunodeficiencies or those affected by malnutrition are more prone to infections and diseases as compared to the healthy.

Diet has a major influence on your immune system, since it directly affects the microflora of your gut (microorganism population in the stomach). Epithelial lining of the stomach helps in providing defence against disease-causing microorganisms. So, if this lining is affected, infections are likely to occur. Certain foods such as probiotics have a direct effect on this bacterial growth in the stomach. But, it also depends on the type of probiotic ingested and its concentration.

In healthy individuals, probiotics are known to increase the population of the ‘good bacteria’ which are beneficial for your immune system. Researchers have demonstrated that taking probiotics boosts immunity and helps in reducing infections and allergies like atopic dermatitis and upper respiratory tract infections, like asthma.

Probiotics are also known to improve skin microbiology, which helps in enhancing the defence mechanism of the skin. So, it may be a good idea to include probiotic foods in your diet. They are present in natural foods (which may already be a part of your diet) and are also available as supplements.

Other than probiotics, several vitamins and minerals are known to improve the immune response of the body, particularly vitamin E and zinc. Research evidence suggests that these vitamins and minerals function by preserving the cell membranes of immunity-boosting mechanisms of the body.

Independent studies were conducted to determine the mechanism by which different foods mediate an immune response. It was concluded that foods containing lactic acid bacteria like probiotics function by stimulating the innate immunity of the individual accentuating the immune response towards pathogen. On the other hand, vitamins and minerals activate the acquired immunity of the person.

Other than this, most of the natural foods like fruits and vegetables, which are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, are known to have anti-infective properties. The independent actions of these vitamins and minerals are discussed below:

Vitamin A, particularly beta-carotene-rich foods help in the maintenance of humoral and cell-mediated immunity (activation of body cells to improve immune response against the pathogen) in the body. Low serum concentration of vitamin A is thus associated with impairment in the immune function of the body, causing diseases. The specific role of beta-carotene in this process is however not well understood.

The direct immunoprotective effects of foods rich in vitamin C or those with supplementation with ascorbic acid or vitamin C have not been clear, but its antioxidant properties may be helpful in this regard. Vitamin C helps in avoiding the damage caused to body cells and tissues by the effect of free radicals. They also prevent damage to the skin. This may be helpful in maintaining optimal functioning of these organs and tissues to warrant immunity.

Selenium stimulates cell-mediated immunity, improving the body’s response towards pathogen; and glutamine (amino acid) may help to prevent oxidative stress, responsible for diseases.

Iron may have a role in immunity, since its deficiency is commonly associated with an immunocompromised state. Iron deficiency has an effect on the cell-mediated immunity, and increases the susceptibility to infections, particularly those associated with the oral cavity, like glossitis (inflammation of the tongue), oral candidiasisoral ulcers, etc.

Read more: Iron test

Dr. Syed Mohd Shadman

Dr. Syed Mohd Shadman

General Physician
6 Years of Experience

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Dr. Arun Mathur

General Physician
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Dr. Siddhartha Vatsa

General Physician
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Dr. Harshvardhan Deshpande

General Physician
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  1. National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Selenium.
  2. National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Vitamin A.
  3. National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
  4. National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Zinc.
  5. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Vitamin E
  6. Maria Kechagia et al. Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review. ISRN Nutr. 2013; 2013: 481651. PMID: 24959545
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