Cold and flu season got you down? We don’t blame you. This time of year can be stressful -- no one likes to get slammed with virus after virus. And if you have a weak immune system it can be especially scary as a common cold can quickly become a chronic and serious problem. The good news? It’s possible to boost your immune system by adding more of these plant-based foods to your plate.
On this page
Before we start: a special GIFT for you
Boost your immune system with plants! Sign up to get your FREE Ultimate Little Guide to Plant-Based Eating below.
Not everyone realizes when their immune system is out of whack -- especially if they’re just used to feeling crappy! Here are few of the signs that your immune system could use a boost:
- You get sick a lot and your colds tend to linger
- You’re always tired even after adequate rest
- Eczema and other dry skin problems
- Chronic digestion issues
- You have a lot of allergies
There’s no cut and dry answer for why one person’s immune system is better than another person’s. While genetics may be a component, research shows that the immune system is shaped more by the environment (i.e. lifestyle factors) than genes.
“Risk factors” that lead to a compromised immune system include:
Lack of sleep
When it comes to warding off a virus, getting enough sleep is key. Studies show those who don’t get an adequate night’s sleep are more likely to become ill when exposed to a virus. Why? When we sleep, our T cells function better than when we’re sleep deprived. T cells are some of the white blood cells that help us fight off infection.
What can you do: Get enough sleep! Typically, adults require 7-8 hours of sleep for a healthy immune system.
High stress levels
When we’re stressed out, our bodies produce the stress hormone cortisol. While stress is a healthy response in certain situations and cortisol is even helpful in warding off inflammation when necessary, it’s when we’re chronically stressed that cortisol becomes an issue.
Our body gets used to the high levels of cortisol from chronic stress which then leads to too much inflammation. Too much stress also decreases those T cells we talked about above, which means your body might struggle to fight off infection.
What you can do: relax! Go for a walk, take a bath, practice 10 minutes of yoga in the morning. Try to incorporate one stress-relieving
Exercise is great for all sorts of things -- keeping your heart healthy, boosting your mood, improving your quality of sleep -- and no surprise, it can also help to keep your immune system up.
What you can do: start small! Even just 20 minutes of movement in your day can help boost your immune system. Try adding a daily walk to your day. If you want more intensity, look for something you actually enjoy doing -- exercise doesn’t have to be a chore!
Standard American Diet
Eating a diet high in inflammatory foods (like the animal fats and refined sugars found in a Standard American Diet) can hurt your gut health and overall wellbeing, not to mention a poor diet is linked with health issues across the board, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, even cancer.
What can you do? Eat more fruits and vegetables, to start! Keep reading to find out which plant-based foods can help boost your immune system naturally.
Did you grow up sipping on a ginger ale whenever you were home sick? The intention was good, the execution just needs a little help. Skip the soda, which has a ton of inflammatory refined sugar, and go straight to the whole food source instead: ginger! Ginger is great for the immune system thanks to its high antioxidant content.
Favorite immune boosting recipes with ginger:
Beets have some amazing health benefits -- one of which is improving gut health. A healthy gut often translates to a healthy immune system. Beets make your stomach happy because they’re a high fiber food, which is excellent for your digestion. Fiber helps you stay regular, feeds healthy gut bacteria, and keeps digestive illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease and diverticulitis at bay. Wins across the board!
Favorite immune boosting recipes with beets:
Garlic has been used to help colds for centuries -- but it’s not just an old wive’s tale. There’s science at work here! Garlic contains compounds called alliin, which are shown to boost immunity and reduce inflammation.
More good news: you don’t have to munch on raw garlic cloves to reap its medicinal benefits.
Our favorite immune boosting recipes with garlic:
Turmeric isn’t just great for inflammation; it can help your immune system thrive, too! Curcumin, the compound in turmeric that makes your curry yellow, also seems to activate T cells and other pathogen-fighting cells in the body, which helps you fend off illness easier.
Our favorite immune boosting recipes with turmeric:
Mushrooms are a superstar when it comes to boosting your immune system. They’re high in Vitamin D (which activates the immune system response and helps T cells do their job of warding off infection). They’ve also got beta-glucans, which have been shown to activate killer cell function -- again, to help you ward off illness.
Our favorite immune boosting recipes with mushrooms:
6. Oranges, Strawberries, Kiwis
We all know Vitamin C is good for our immune system (hello antioxidants!) but don’t go reaching for that OJ just yet. Orange juice is typically loaded with refined sugars, which can cause inflammation in your body. Instead, reach for whole food sources instead. Our favorite fruits with vitamin C are oranges, strawberries, and kiwis.
Our favorite immune boosting recipes with Vitamin C:
When it comes to your health, you can’t go wrong with oatmeal. Oats are great for weight loss, cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, and digestion, among many things. They’re loaded with fiber (remember, great for your gut!) and oats also have zinc, an important nutrient for your immune system because it helps T cells and natural killer cells function correctly.
Our favorite immune boosting recipes with oatmeal:
Get immune-boosting meals, delivered - no cooking required!
You get healthy meals delivered with the nutrients you need to feel your best. We do the cooking! Just heat, eat, and enjoy. Browse plant-based meal bundles here.
- Signs of a weak immune system include: frequent and long-lasting colds, fatigue, dry skin issues, chronic digestion problems, lots of allergies.
- Causes of weak immune system are often related to poor sleep, high stress, lack of exercise, and eating a Standard American Diet.
- You can boost your immune system by eating a variety of whole plant-based foods, like ginger, beets, garlic, turmeric, mushrooms, oranges, strawberries, kiwis, and oatmeal.
Learn the ins and outs of following a plant-based diet with your free guide.
By Ali Brown
Ali is a nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.