12 best foods for your immune system: Citrus fruit, sweet potatoes, garlic & more

The food you eat can play a significant role in keeping your immune system strong.

Sick woman trying to sense smell of fresh tangerine orange, immune system has symptoms of Covid-19, corona virus infection - loss of smell and taste, standing at home. One of the main signs of the disease.
Cold and flu season is here. Luckily, the food you eat can help boost your immune system. (Photo via Getty Images)

Cold and flu season is here — and with an early rise in cases, along with the continuing spread of COVID-19 and RSV, your immune system needs all the help it can get.

Fortunately, the food you eat can play a significant role in keeping your immune system strong.

How can food boost your immune system?

The nutrients in various foods can boost your immune system by helping your body produce and support healthy white and red blood cells.

Additionally, certain vitamins and minerals can fight inflammation, increase mucus production to trap bacteria and help your red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout your body.

Some of the most beneficial immune-boosting nutrients are:

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin A

  • Iron

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin E

  • Zinc

Consuming nutrient-rich foods is especially beneficial during cold and flu season. This winter, try to add more of the following 12 foods to your diet to help boost your immune system.

Citrus fruits arranged of a wooden table.
Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant. (Photo via Getty Images)

1. Citrus fruit

Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps the immune system fight off infections.

Vitamin C is concentrated in immune cells and has been proven to decrease during infections. This means your body needs more vitamin C if you've been exposed to a cold or flu virus.

Excellent sources of vitamin C in citrus fruits include:

  • Oranges

  • Grapefruits

  • Clementines

  • Limes

  • Tangerines

  • Lemons

Raw chicken breast with ingredient
Chicken is a good source of zinc. (Photo via Getty Images)

2. Chicken

Chicken soup is both comforting and a hearty meal when fighting a cold.

Chicken is a good source of zinc, an essential mineral that's involved in your immune system's function. Zinc is critical to the normal development and function of immune cells in your body.

Chicken is also high in vitamin B6, which is essential in creating new and healthy red blood cells.

tray of oven baked sweet potato chips in closeup. Baked with paprika, rosemary and salt. Homemade cooked sweet potatoes with spices and herbs on oven-tray.
Sweet potatoes contain nutrients that help fight infections. (Photo via Getty Images)

3. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are delicious, nutritious and versatile.

They're high in vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene and potassium — a mineral that helps fluid balance throughout your body.

The vitamin A in sweet potatoes helps maintain a robust immune system by supporting the production and activity of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which fight infections.

There are plenty of ways to incorporate healthy sweet potato recipes into your diet during cold and flu season.

Fresh Salmon Pieces Seasoned with Rosemary, Pepper and Lemmon Isolated on White Background
Fish like salmon and albacore tuna are fantastic way to boost your immune system. (Photo via Getty Images)

4. Oily fish

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats that play an essential role in supporting your immune system by providing energy and structural components to cell membranes.

Omega-3s benefit the health of your heart and brain, and may be best known for their ability to fight inflammation.

Fish like salmon and albacore tuna are fantastic options for an immune system boost.

overhead view of a box of red peppers in a box at a market / greengrocer. Red color. Fresh and ripe vegetables, organic farming.
Red bell peppers are an excellent source of both vitamin C and vitamin A. (Photo via Getty Images)

5. Red bell peppers

If you're looking for a significant vitamin C boost, citrus fruits aren't your only option.

Red bell peppers are an excellent source of both vitamin C and vitamin A. In fact, they contain approximately three times as much vitamin C as your average Florida orange.

Bell peppers offer several health benefits, so be sure to stock up on this nutritious veggie this cold and flu season.

chopped up broccoli
Broccoli can help protect your immune cells. (Photo via Getty Images)

6. Broccoli

Don't forget to add some broccoli to your flu-fighting diet as well.

Broccoli is rich in immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E, which help protect your immune cells against damage from free radicals.

With bell peppers, broccoli and chicken all being great for your immune system, perhaps it's time for a stir-fry night.

Shellfish are delicious delicacies rich in zinc.
Shellfish are delicious delicacies rich in zinc. (Photo via Getty Images)

7. Shellfish

Shellfish are delicious delicacies rich in zinc. Adult women should ideally consume eight milligrams of zinc daily, while men should consume 11 milligrams.

Shellfish, such as oysters, lobster and mussels, are an excellent source of this immune-boosting nutrient.

For example, a single serving of Alaskan king crab can contribute 6.5 milligrams toward your daily dose.

Almonds, close up, nuts
Almonds are a good source of vitamin E. (Photo via Getty Images)

8. Almonds

Almonds are a good source of vitamin E, which plays a vital role in fighting off free radicals and keeping your immune system strong.

These nuts are also a great source of fibre, which helps keep the digestive system running smoothly.

The vitamin K in almonds may help protect against cancer, especially when combined with a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

bowl of berries
Almonds are a good source of vitamin E. (Photo via Getty Images)

9. Berries

Berries are a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants.

They're also rich in fibre, which helps you feel fuller for longer. The best part? Berries are delicious and versatile. Add them to salads or eat them freely to give your immune system a leg up against colds.

Tip: Add berries to yogurt for a healthy and immunity-boosting breakfast.

Kiwi Macro,Fresh Kiwi fruit sliced use for background
Kiwi is rich in copper, potassium and manganese. (Photo via Getty Images)

10. Kiwi

Kiwi is a great source of vitamins C, E, A and K. This fruit is also rich in copper, potassium and manganese.

The high concentration of antioxidants in kiwis will help boost your immune system while protecting you from damage caused by free radicals.

Because of the nutrient-rich nature of kiwis, they offer a multitude of other health benefits.

Kiwis are available all year long, so they're a great addition to your regular diet.

garlic bulbs with garlic cloves, vegetable harvest, close-up
Garlic is a powerful immunity booster. (Photo via Getty Images)

11. Garlic

Garlic is a powerful immunity booster thanks to its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. It also contains vitamin C and other antioxidants that help boost your body's defences.

It's also rich in selenium, an important mineral and antioxidant, as well as manganese. Both are important compounds for good health and are usually found in only small amounts, so adding a little extra garlic to your plate can be a big help during cold and flu season.

If you need a triple dose of flu-fighting foods, try out this garlic-confit chicken with lemon.

papaya on a wood table
Papaya is rich in vitamins A, C and E. (Photo via Getty Images)

12. Papaya

Papaya is rich in vitamins A, C and E, as well as fibre and potassium, making it an immune-system booster.

It's great on its own or in a fruit salad that contains other cold-busting fruits like berries and citrus fruits.

More ways to protect yourself during cold and flu season

In addition to eating immunity-boosting foods, there are extra steps you can take during cold and flu season to help prevent sickness.

Get plenty of sleep, washing your hands and disinfecting public surfaces can help.

These may all seem obvious, but they can go a long way in protecting you from common viruses. Keep your body even healthier by exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and limiting your consumption of alcohol.

Try these great recipes that feature immune-boosting foods to help keep you protected this cold and flu season.

Let us know what you think by commenting below and tweeting @YahooStyleCA! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.