Survival of the Fitness #3 - Foods that Boost the Immune System

We all know that the immune system is a vital part of keeping us healthy while doing its job of producing antibodies to fight bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens. There are many components in the human body that have to play together to keep us healthy and strong. In regards to our immune system, the following players are key: white blood cells, antibodies, the complement system, the lymphatic system, the spleen, the thymus, and the bone marrow.

To keep the immune system working smoothly and to help the body regenerate the needed cells and components, it is important for us to get our daily recommended amounts of Vitamins and Minerals. The most important vitamins and minerals that are linked to immune health are A, B’s, C, D and E, Copper, Folic Acid, Iron, Selenium, and Zinc. All of them are found in plant foods. Vitamin A is being converted from Beta carotene and Vitamin D is available in a few foods like fish and egg yolks and fortified products, however, the body can’t easily absorb Vitamin D through food, instead, it converts Vitamin D via the skin when absorbing UVB rays from the sun. Vitamin D Supplements are suggested if there is a lack of sun exposure. Always check with your Medical Provider on recommendations and dosages. 

Why not just pop a multivitamin pill to keep you covered you may ask? Studies have shown that vitamins are more effective and better absorbed by the body when taken the natural way via food. Besides, plant-foods have other important phytonutrients and enzymes besides Vitamins that the body needs to stay healthy.

The following is a list of some of the healthiest foods that contain immune-boosting vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Eat them in any way you want, but just keep in mind, that some vitamins and antioxidants are heat sensitive. This means that vegetables, fruits, and berries contain their highest amounts of vitamins when eaten raw, and the more heat or water is being used during the cooking process, the more they lose their amounts of water-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, on the other hand, are fat-soluble and not lost when being heated, and they are better absorbed when taken with foods that are high in healthy fats, like Olives, Avocado, Nuts, and Seeds for example.

Fruits, vegetables, and berries are always best when freshly picked, that’s when they are the most tasteful and contain the highest amounts of nutrients. Buying your produce from the local farmer’s markets, farm stand or grocery store that sells locally sourced produce is a great way to get the freshest products on your plate, or buy them frozen for longer shelf-life.


Top Immune Boosting Foods from A to Z:

Beans and Legumes:

Lentils, Chickpeas, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Navy Beans, Great Northern Beans, Pinto Beans, Adzuki Beans, Lima Beans, Mung Beans, etc.

Beans and Legumes have many health benefits and they are rich in Zinc, Folate (B9), Thiamin (B1), Magnesium, Manganese, Iron, Protein, and Fiber.

How to eat it: Soak and cook raw beans or buy canned beans. They are great in salads, stews, chili, soups, curries, stir-fry, casseroles, vegetable hash, tacos, quesadillas, burritos, frittatas, buddha bowls, pasta dishes, mashed in a sandwich as a “tuna or chicken salad” alternative, or used as stuffing in baked bell peppers, potato skins, squash or tomatoes, etc.

They can also be pureed and made into hummus, dips, and spreads, vegan creamy sauces, and “cheese” alternative sauces and dips or made into a mash as a side, etc. 

Due to their mild flavor, beans can even be used in baked goods like muffins and loaves.

Recipes for inspiration:

29 Bean Recipes That’ll Make You Crave Plant-Based Protein


Acai, Blueberries, Blackberries, Goji Berries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Elderberries, Gooseberries, etc. 

Berries are bursting with important antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients. 

While Strawberries are the superstar in Vitamin C content, Goji Berries are rich in Vitamin A and Blueberries contain Flavonoids that play an essential role in the immune defense for the respiratory tract as per a study that was published in 2016.

How to eat it: Berries are delicious when eaten raw and they are a great staple to have on hand in your freezer as well. Berries are great added to your breakfast, oatmeal, cereal, chia seed pudding, plant-based yogurts or pancakes, waffles, french toast, or added to salads or baked goods, and as a dessert topped with cashew or coconut cream or as a cobbler, pie or tart. They can be sauteed with water and raw honey for a dessert or compote, and they are great as a puree, flan, smoothie, ice cream, or even made into sauces to accompany a savory dish. Berries are a treat also in home-made lemonades, kombucha, in bubbly water, or even fancy alcoholic beverages and they are great for making your own syrup.

Recipes for inspiration:

50 Berry Treats

Berries – Food and Wine

Vegan Berry Recipes


It contains Vitamins A, C, and E, Folate, Potassium, and Fiber. In addition to being a benefit for the immune system, Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are found to have compounds that help prevent cancer growth

How to eat it: Eat Broccoli raw with a healthy dip, or add to salads, flat-breads, stir-fry, soups, casseroles, or make it as a side dish. Add herbs, spices, or lemon juice and sprinkle with almonds or pine nuts. Broccoli can be baked, sauteed, steamed, stir-fried, grilled, oven-roasted, fried, pickled, and of course, boiled and is a great vegetable for juicing as well.

Recipes for inspiration:

9 Badass Vegan Broccoli Recipes

27 Broccoli Recipes You’ll Want to Make Tonight

12 Favorite Broccoli Recipes


Carrots are superheroes for our health and our immune system. They are bursting with Beta Carotene which is converted into Vitamin A, antioxidants including Vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. 

How to eat it: Carrots are very versatile and are great eaten raw, baked, sauteed, glazed, steamed, stir-fried, grilled, oven-roasted, pureed, ground, pickled and of course boiled. The Carrot is a great vegetable for juicing as well.

Add some garlic, a tad of sea salt, spices, herbs, or lemon juice to enhance and change up the flavor. 

They are great in salads, stews, chili, curry, soups, stir-fry, casseroles, vegetable hash, tacos, quesadillas, burritos, frittatas, raw veggie rolls and wraps, buddha bowls, pasta dishes, shaved into noodles, or grated, mashed or pureed as a side dish, dip or spread. They are delicious even when added to flatbreads, sweet baked goods, cakes, muffins, etc.

Recipes for inspiration:

72 Healthy Carrot Recipes

Vegetarian Recipes with Carrots

Citrus Fruits: 

Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Grapefruits, Tangerines, Mandarines, etc.

Citrus fruits are the superstars of Vitamin C content. One medium Orange contains all the Vitamin C we need per day. They are also rich in Folate, Potassium, and Fiber. Since Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, it is not being stored in the body, so it is important to eat foods that are rich in Vitamin C on a daily basis. Vitamin C is also not heat resistant, so using raw fruit is the best form to get it. It is recommended to eat citrus fruits like Oranges, Tangerines, and Mandarins rather than drinking them in juice form since the whole fruit is containing fiber that helps to absorb the fruit-sugar slowly while drinking it as a fruit juice where the sugar is more concentrated. Store-bought juices usually have added sugar which makes it an unhealthy drink. 

Drinking a small glass of freshly pressed Orange juice, on the other hand, is a great way to get your vitamin-shot if you don’t want to eat citrus fruit. One thing to remember is, that Vitamin C is being destroyed the more it is getting in contact with Oxygen, so drinking your freshly pressed Orange Juice right after juicing it is the best way to get all the Vitamin C into your system.

How to eat it: Raw, cooked, baked, juiced.
Drink as fresh-pressed morning juice, eat them as a snack, add to breakfast oatmeal, cereal, baked goods, add on top of pancakes, waffles, salads, greens, or side dishes, add Citrus juice to sauces, dips, baked goods, etc. Make into drinks: Add freshly pressed juice or fresh citrus fruits to your water, add herbs like Mint, Rosemary, Cilantro, Basil, Sage, Thyme or Lavender for different flavors, make home-made lemonade, add lemon juice to green tea or make a health-shot by mixing lemon juice with ginger juice, raw honey, turmeric, and black pepper.

Recipes for inspiration:

45 Vegan Sweet & Savory Orange Recipes

Savoring Winter with 40 Vibrant Citrus Recipes

Celebrate Citrus With These 15 Bright and Beautiful Recipes

Dark Leafy Greens: 

Kale, Swiss Chard, Collard Greens, Spinach, Beet Greens, Dandelion Greens, Turnip Greens, Mustard Greens, Arugula, Watercress.

They are powerhouses and include Vitamin A, B, C, E (Beta Carotene), K, Iron, Magnesium, Calcium, and Fiber. Spinach, Collard Greens and Kale are good sources of healthy protein as well.

Eating a variety of dark leafy greens on a daily basis is recommended. They are helping to reduce inflammation and support your immune system. Since beta carotene converts into fat-soluble vitamin A, it is recommended to pair dark leafy greens with healthy fat, like nuts or seeds, avocados or olives, for best absorption. The longer leafy darky greens are being exposed to heat, the more nutrients are being lost. Therefore, add greens to dishes at the very end of the cooking process. They need only about a minute of heat to soften.

How to eat it: Dark Leafy Greens are great raw, steamed, sauteed, stir-fried, or juiced. Add raw greens to smoothies, salads, flatbreads, sandwiches, rolls, wraps, or freshly squeezed juices. Steam or saute greens as a side dish or add them to soups, stir-fry, stews, casseroles, savory pies, pizza, pasta dishes, whole grains, grits, buddha bowls, macro bowls, omelets, frittatas, vegetable hash or patties, savory muffins, etc. Add a pinch of sea salt, pepper, herbs, and spices to mix it up. Adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or some lemon juice helps to reduce bitterness.  

Recipes for inspiration: 

Bon Appetit – Leafy Greens Recipes

17 Creative Vegetarian Recipes Using Leafy Greens

50+ Vegan Leafy Greens Recipes


Garlic is well known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Garlic contains antioxidants and other compounds that help destroy bacteria and reduce infections. Eating Garlic is also known to be beneficial for heart health and even lowering the occurrence of Colon Cancer. Garlic is most potent when eaten raw, and loses its benefits when heated above 140F. The best way to use Garlic when cooking is to add it to a recipe towards the end of the cooking process.

How to eat it: Garlic is great raw in marinades, sauces, dips, salads, and pretty much any type of dish except for primarily sweet dishes and desserts. 

Garlic has a very strong taste and odor, especially when eaten raw. If you are new to eating Garlic, start with small amounts and build it up over time as too much Garlic can create stomach discomfort and bloating if you are not used to eating it.

Recipes for inspiration: 

20 Garlicky Recipes That Show One Clove is Never Enough

12 Vegan Garlic Recipes You Have to Try

30 Recipes That Put Garlic Front And Center


Ginger is a powerful root with many health benefits and has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal treatment. It is known for its anti-inflammatory compounds and has shown to reduce sore throat and other inflammatory diseases. It is found to be beneficial for nausea, cardiovascular health, and colon cancer and for patients with diabetes.

How to eat it: Ginger is great in both sweet and savory dishes and most powerful when used as a raw or freshly juiced ingredient. It is a great addition to homemade drinks, fresh juices, lemonades, teas, or as a warming tonic when mixed with raw honey and hot water. Add Ginger to marinades, salad dressings, stir-fry, saute dishes, soups, Asian-inspired dishes, baked goods, and desserts, etc.

Ginger has a strong taste and brings some heat to the palate, so adding too much can be overwhelming.

Recipes for inspiration: 

53 Ginger Recipes That Are Just The Right Amount Of Spicy

Food and Wine – Ginger Recipes


Kiwi is full of antioxidants and minerals and brings lots of health benefits to the plate. One Kiwi provides about 80% of the daily value of Vitamin C. It also contains Vitamin E, K, Folate, and Potassium. Vitamin C prevents inflammation and cell damage and helps to boost white blood cells which fight infections.

How to eat them: Kiwi is best eaten raw to maintain their high Vitamin C value.

Eat them raw as a snack, add to smoothies, fruit cups, breakfast cereals, on top of pancakes, waffles, french toast, oatmeal, chia pudding, salads, sweet casseroles, and baked goods. Freeze for sorbet or mix with coconut milk for vegan ice cream, add to flans, puddings, cakes, pies, muffins, other desserts.  

Recipes for inspiration: 

Vegetarian Kiwi Recipes

50+ Best Kiwi Recipes

California Kiwifruit Recipes


Mangoes are high in Vitamin C, B6, Beta Carotene (Vitamin A), which are important for immune health. They also are a good source of Potassium, Magnesium, Copper, and Fiber. One cup of sliced mangoes contains 60% of the daily value of Vitamin C which is best preserved when eaten raw. Mangoes have immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties and they have been linked to lowering the risk of certain cancers, promoting brain health, and helping to improve red blood cell count. 

How to eat them: Mangoes have a delicate taste that goes well with sweets and desserts as well as savory dishes. Eat them raw as a snack or fruit cup, add to smoothies, breakfast bowls, oatmeal, chia pudding, yogurts, salads, wraps, rolls, sauces, salsas and dips, marinades and glazes, rice dishes, stews, curries, stir-fries or make them into desserts, puddings, creams, flans, pies, cakes, muffins, ice cream or sorbet, etc. or add them to home-made drinks.

Recipes for inspiration: 

Vegan Mango Recipes

27 Mango Recipes That Bring The Tropics To You

Mango Recipes


Chanterelle, Crimini, Portobella, Porcini, White Button, Oyster, King Oyster, Maitake, Shiitake, Enoki, Shimeji, Morel, Hedgehog, Black Trumpets, Reishi, Lions Mane, Turkey Tail.

While mushrooms, in general, are a good source of Selenium and B-Vitamins, Fiber, and Protein, many types have medicinal properties as well. Mushrooms are known for their antioxidant, ant-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, and have other beneficial health properties. In regards to Immune System support, the following mushrooms have been found the most powerful: Lion’s Mane, Maitake, Oyster, Reishi, Shiitake, and Turkey Tail.

How to eat them: Edible mushrooms are delicious and most can be eaten raw, but their flavor usually enhances when being roasted, stir-fried, sauteed, or grilled. Add them to sauces, scrambles, veggie hash, salads, wraps, soups, stir-fry, casseroles, pizza, flatbread, grits, whole grains, rice, pasta, potato dishes, curries, stews or make them as a side dish. Grill or pan-fry Portobello Mushrooms and use as a meat-substitute in a burger or sandwich.

Some types of Mushrooms like Turkey Tail and Reishi are better taken in tea or powder form or boiled in water to make tea and drink the benefits instead of eating them.

Recipes for inspiration: 

49 Mushroom Recipes So Good They’re Magic

21 Vegan Mushroom Recipes for When You Want Meaty Without the Meat

10 Wildly Delicious Vegetarian Mushroom Recipes

Nuts and Seeds: 

Nuts and seeds are a great source of health-promoting minerals and healthy fats including Omega-6 and Omega-3, protein, and a good source of fiber as well. 

Almonds, Walnuts, Pistachios, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, Sunflower Seeds, Chia Seeds, Sesame Seeds, and Pumpkin Seeds are especially beneficial for the immune system. 

Almonds are rich in Vitamin E, Cashews are rich in Zinc, Walnuts, and Pistachios are rich in Vitamin B6 and one Brazil Nut provides the daily amount of needed Selenium. Sesame seeds are rich in Vitamin E, B6, Zinc, Selenium, and Iron while Sunflower seeds are a good source of Vitamin E, and Selenium and Pumpkin seeds contain Zinc, Iron and Protein as well as other anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, protein, fiber, Omega-3, Calcium, Manganese and Magnesium.

Nuts and seeds are one of the foods we should be eating daily to stay healthy in general, but studies have also shown that they are especially beneficial to prevent heart disease and diabetes.

How to eat them: Nuts and seeds can be eaten raw, they enhance their aroma and flavor when being lightly roasted (without using oil). Eat nuts raw as a snack, or mix with dried fruit or dark non-dairy chocolate for a trail mix. Sprinkle nuts and seed on top of breakfast bowls, pancakes, cereal, salads, soups, leafy greens, vegetable side dishes, etc. Or add to baked goods like bread, muffins, pies, cookies, cakes, etc. Make a chia seed pudding with coconut milk and add fresh fruit or berries, or add chia seed to your smoothies and oatmeal. Almonds are a great substitute for plant-based dairy replacement. Soak Almonds for a few hours then puree them, add a little lemon juice and agave to make it into “sweet cream” and mix with berries and fruit, or leave the agave and add salt and nutritional yeast instead to turn it into a creamy cheese-alternative.

Some great combinations are cashews with rice or noodle dishes or in curries, sesame seeds on top of carrots, sweet potatoes, squash or leafy greens, pumpkin seeds with basil and garlic as a pesto-style topping or marinade. Pistachios ground and mixed with nut milk and pureed bananas then freeze it to turn it into a vegan pistachio ice cream. 

Roasted pistachios, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds go well on top of pretty much any dish.

Recipes for inspiration: 

Creative Ways To Cook With Nuts

48 Pistachio Recipes For Every Occasion

15 Tasty Recipes With Nuts


Papaya is a great source of Vitamin A, C, B6, antioxidants, and fiber. One papaya contains more than twice the amount of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C. Besides their benefits for immune health, papayas contain a digestive enzyme called papain which has anti-inflammatory properties and improves digestion and constipation, and certain studies suggest that lycopene in papaya can reduce cancer risk.

How to eat them: Papaya has a delicate taste and they get sweeter the riper they are. They are delicious when eaten raw but they can be roasted, baked, just by themselves or are great when added to smoothies, breakfast bowls, cereals, oatmeal, pancakes, and waffles, etc. Add them to salads, rice dishes, curries, stir-fry, or puree papaya to make into sauces, puddings, ice cream, or sorbet.

Recipes for inspiration: 

8 Fresh Papaya Recipes For The Summer

11 Best Papaya Recipes

10 Plant-Based Papaya Recipes

Probiotic-Rich Foods: 

Yoghurt with active or live-cultures, Kefir, Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Tempeh, Miso, Pickles.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and microorganisms that are found to be beneficial for our health, the immune system, and digestive tract, as well as for brain function and heart health. Non-dairy probiotic yogurts are available for plant-based eaters and people with lactose intolerance. Supplements are another way to get probiotics, before taking them it is advised to learn more about the topic as there is an array of different probiotic products out there and there are many different strains and strengths of probiotic products, so make sure you get what suits your needs.

How to eat them: Sauerkraut is delicious raw and cooked, and a wonderful addition to salads, soups, buddha bowls, macro bowls, sandwiches, burgers, stews, and other dishes. Heat it up and serve with potatoes or root vegetables, add to hearty stews or soups, use as dumpling filling or add to casseroles or gnocchi dishes.

Yogurt is versatile and great for breakfast or as a snack with fruits and berries or granola and it is an additive used for baking as well. Yogurt is an easy base for many savory dressings, including the classic Tzatziki that combines Yoghurt with garlic, dill and grated cucumbers. Mix yogurt with herbs and spices for salad dressings, falafel dishes, vegetable dishes, spicy roasted chickpeas, whole-grain dishes, or steamed potatoes.

Tempeh is a great protein resource for plant-based eaters in addition to providing probiotic benefits. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and is very versatile, has a nutty taste, and with the right spices, it becomes a great meat substitute. Add tempeh bacon for breakfast or whole-grain dishes, add tempeh crumbles to pasta sauces, casseroles, stir-fry, rice dishes, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, stuffings, empanada fillings, soups, chili, and stews. Use tempeh patties in burgers, sandwiches, wraps, or use in plant-based “meat-loaf” or sausages. 

Recipes for inspiration: 

Vegetarian Sauerkraut Recipes

46 Yogurt Recipes for Sweet and Savory Fans

57 Sweet and Savory Yogurty Recipes

14 Tempeh Recipes That Prove It’s More Delicious Than Tofu

21 Delicious Vegan Tempeh Recipes

Red Bell Peppers:

Red Bell Peppers contain twice as much Vitamin C as citrus fruit and they are high in Vitamin B6, B9, and antioxidants. 

How to eat them: They taste great raw, grilled, roasted, sauteed, stir-fried, baked, and steamed.

Eat them raw as a snack or dip them in hummus or other healthy dips, add to breakfast hash, omelets, salads, rolls, wraps and sandwiches, veggie bowls, stir-fry, rice and noodle dishes, pizza, flatbread, burritos, quesadilla, fajitas, tacos, etc. Oven roast or grill or make stuffed peppers to bake in the oven.

Recipes for inspiration: 

Vegan Recipes With Bell Peppers

25 Bell Pepper Recipes That Make the Most of This Colorful Veg

14 of our Favorite Bell Pepper Recipes

Sweet Potatoes: 

Sweet Potatoes are a good source of Beta Carotene (Vitamin A), and they contain Vitamin C, Potassium, Fiber. Some studies have found that Sweet Potatoes also have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties as well as a whole list of other health benefits ranging from heart health, vision, fertility, skin health, and blood sugar management.

How to eat them: Sweet Potatoes are delicious when steamed, baked, roasted, grilled, and even boiled.

Use for potato mash, hash, oven-roasted with garlic, rosemary and thyme, stuff and bake in the oven, pack in foil and grill over the campfire, steam and add to buddha bowls or add to flatbreads, quesadillas, tacos, salads, soups, stews, chili, one-pot meals and more.

Recipes for inspiration: 

Our 21 Best Vegan Sweet Potato Recipes

30+ Best Sweet Potato Recipes to Try This Fall

80 Easy & Delicious Ways to Make Sweet Potatoes


Watermelon contains Vitamin A, B6, C, antioxidants, amino acids, and potassium. Watermelons are found to have anti-inflammatory properties and studies showed links from heart health to cancer prevention.

How to eat them: Watermelons are best when eaten raw without any other foods. The reason is that melons are one of the foods that are digested rapidly. When being mixed with slower digested foods, it can result in bloating and gas. If you want to, of course, there are lots of delicious recipes for watermelons.

Recipes for inspiration: 

36 Best-Ever Watermelon Recipes to Serve This Summer

15 Vegan Watermelon Recipes That Will Keep You Cool All Summer Long!

18 Refreshing and Creative Watermelon Recipes to Try This Summer for #WatermelonDay!

Written by Eliane Baggenstos, owner of bodono, Registered Nurse, and Certified Health Coach with certification in Plant-Based Nutrition by the Cornell University and Evidence-based Health Coaching for Healthcare Providers by the National Society of Health Coaches, Licensed Massage Therapist with certifications in Advanced Sports Massage and Medical Massage, and Personal Trainer NASM CPT.