What helps build a strong immune system

Your immune system is your first line of defense when you’re battling a common cold, flu or other cold-weather illness. Your immune system helps you heal and stay well. To work well your immune system needs healthful foods, exercise and low stress. But, be careful because too much of an inflammatory response can lead to chronic (long term) illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. So how can you support your immune system and balance its response so you get and stay healthy?

Here are six healthy living strategies you can use to boost your immune system:

  1. drink plenty of fluids
  2. exercise regularly
  3. limit stress
  4. get plenty of sleep
  5. include probiotics from foods or supplements
  6. eat a colorful, well-balanced diet.

Water is essential for immune health

Water is still the best thing you can drink. Each person varies, but aim to drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day. That can be hard to do. Your body get dehydrated after hours of sleep, so drink a glass of water right away when you wake up. If you struggle with drinking enough water, set reminders throughout the day or drink a glass of water before each meal. Caffeine-free hot tea can count as part of your daily water tally.

Exercise regularly to strengthen immunity

Exercise is essential to preventing chronic illnesses such as heart disease and high blood pressure, and to keep your weight in control. Exercise also contributes to a healthy immune system. It promotes good blood circulation, which helps your immune system do its job more efficiently.

Reduce stress for increased immune function

Daily stress can overwork your immune system and drain your ability to stay healthy. Big and little daily stressors can constantly push your immune system. That’s why it’s important to take time for self-care. Make time each day to do things to "refill your tank." Self-care varies from person to person. It can include setting aside time to read, meditate, talk a walk, do a hobby or get a massage.

Discover the benefits of mindfulness
Deep Breathing techniques

Sleep, a natural immunity booster

Sleep is essential for the health of your body and brain. When you don’t get enough sleep your natural immune cells go down, and inflammation cells go up. Good sleep helps strengthen your immune system. Adults should try for at seven to eight hours of sleep a day. Children and teens need more sleep.

Food and drink to boost your immune system

A healthful diet is important to a healthy immune system. An eating plan that focuses on plants, fiber, protein and healthful fats can help you feel better and heal faster. Protein also is essential to a body that is healing.

Some of the best foods to boost immunity contain probiotics, live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your gut health, and digestive system. Probiotics can be found in fermented and cultured foods. Look on the food label for "live active cultures". Some foods that contain probiotics are:

  • kombucha (fermented, lightly sweetened black or green tea drink) and kvass (traditional Slavic and Baltic fermented beverage made from rye bread)
  • unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi
  • yogurt, kefir (a thick, creamy and drinkable yogurt), lassi (a drink made from a yogurt or buttermilk) and leban (a liquid or semisolid food made from curdled milk
  • tofu, miso, natto (fermented soybeans), shoyu or tamari (types of Japanese soy sauce) and tempeh (an Indonesian dish made from fermented soybeans)

If you want to explore taking a probiotic supplement, talk to your health care provider. A variety of options are available in the vitamin section of grocery and natural food stores.

Eat colorful foods that boost your immune system

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help keep you well. Eat a rainbow of vegetables and fruits daily to ensure you're getting a variety of nutrients. Lean proteins and complex carbohydrates, like brown rice and quinoa, are also part of a healthy diet. Reduce how much you consume of processed foods, sugar and beverages that have few nutrients such as soda and alcoholic drinks.

Nutritional and health benefits that can boost your immune system.

If you want advice on how to get and stay health talking with your health care provider is a good first step. If you don’t have a primary care provider, Allina Health can help you get care now.

The old saying, “An apple a day can keep the doctor away,” may have some truth behind it after all. Eating nourishing foods rich in certain vitamins can help your immune system fight off illness. 

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A strong immune system will bolster your body against sicknesses like colds and the flu. It can also help you recover from injury and keep your energy level high. 

We talked to registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, for a closer look at which vitamins are best for boosting your immunity, as well as what foods you can find them in and how they can help keep you healthy. 

Vitamins that boost immune system health 

Choosing foods with the right vitamins can help you build up your immune system.  

“You build a strong immune system by maintaining healthy eating habits over time,” Zumpano says. “The more you regularly choose a vitamin-rich diet, the more likely you are to strengthen your immune system for the long haul.” 

In other words, you can’t just eat four oranges at breakfast one day and expect to be protected against catching a cold all season. It’s a cumulative effect.

Zumpano shares which vitamins you need to give your immune system a boost and how to get them.  

Vitamin C 

This one, you probably know about. Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters of all. In fact, researchers say vitamin C deficiency can make you more prone to getting sick. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, meaning it can protect your body from toxins that cause inflammation in your body.  

Getting your intake of vitamin C on the regular is essential for good health because your body doesn’t produce it on its own. It also doesn’t store it to use later. The good news is that vitamin C is in so many foods that most people don’t need to take a vitamin C supplement unless a doctor advises it. 

Vitamin C-rich foods  

Vitamin C is most commonly associated with orange citrus fruits, but you can get your fill of vitamin C from a variety of fruits and vegetables. Zumpano suggests these 10 foods, ranked from highest levels of Vitamin C to lower levels:   

  • Red bell peppers. 
  • Oranges and orange juice. 
  • Grapefruit juice. 
  • Kiwi. 
  • Green bell peppers. 
  • Cooked broccoli. 
  • Strawberries. 
  • Brussels sprouts. 
  • Grapefruit. 
  • Raw broccoli. 

Vitamin B6   

B6 is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in your immune system. One of its major roles is in producing white blood cells and T-cells. Those are the cells in your body that respond to fight off invaders, like viruses and bacteria.

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Foods full of vitamin B6 

Vitamin B6-rich foods include the following, in order from most B6 to foods with lower (but still good amounts!) of B6: 

  • Chickpeas (the main ingredient in hummus). 
  • Beef and beef liver. 
  • Cold-water fish, like salmon and tuna. 
  • Chicken breast. 
  • Fortified breakfast cereals. 
  • Potatoes. 
  • Turkey. 
  • Bananas. 
  • Bulgur. 
  • Cottage cheese. 
  • Winter squash. 

Vitamin E 

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps your body fight off infection. Researchers say vitamin E is one of the most effective nutrients for your immune function. That’s because it helps keep your T-cells working at peak performance.  

Get your fill of vitamin E 

Zumpano says to avoid taking vitamin E supplements. Not only is there little clinical research showing that vitamin E supplements benefit your health, but they may also be harmful in some situations. 

Instead, load up your plate with these vitamin E-filled foods. The higher on this list, the more vitamin E they contain: 

  • Wheat germ oil. 
  • Seeds, like sunflower seeds. 
  • Nuts, like almonds, peanuts and nut butters. 
  • Spinach. 
  • Broccoli. 
  • Kiwi. 
  • Mango. 
  • Tomatoes. 
  • Spinach. 


Zinc is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Researchers call it the “gatekeeper” of your immune system because it’s responsible for making all your immune cells function properly. 

Foods rich in zinc 

Oysters are the highest food source of zinc. Other foods to boost your zinc intake include these, again ranked from higher levels of zinc to lower levels:  

  • Oysters 
  • Beef (choose lean cuts only). 
  • Blue crab. 
  • Pumpkin seeds. 
  • Broiled pork chops. 
  • Turkey breast. 
  • Cheddar cheese. 
  • Shrimp. 
  • Lentils. 
  • Canned sardines. 
  • Greek yogurt. 
  • Milk. 


Dietary selenium is a one-two punch for keeping you healthy. Researchers say it not only activates your immune system when there’s a threat, but it also tells your immune system when to pump the brakes. That means it can keep your immune system from going overboard, protecting you from chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis. 

Try these foods high in selenium 

Zumpano suggests getting your fill on these foods high in selenium. Foods listed higher on this list contain the most selenium: 

  • Brazil nuts. 
  • Tuna. 
  • Halibut. 
  • Canned sardines. 
  • Lean meats. 
  • Cottage cheese. 
  • Brown rice. 
  • Eggs. 
  • Oatmeal. 
  • Milk and yogurt. 
  • Lentils. 
  • Nuts and seeds. 
  • Peas. 

Some ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are fortified with selenium, too.  

Get your vitamins with a colorful diet 

A simple rule can help you when choosing fruits and vegetables at the grocery store or farmers market: The more colorful the fruits and vegetables, the better. (And prettier, too!) 

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“Try to eat a wide variety of foods, and aim to eat fruit and vegetables from every color of the rainbow,” Zumpano advises. “Your plate will be more enticing to look at, and you will ensure that you’re getting as many health-boosting vitamins and nutrients as possible.” 

Up your water intake 

In addition to a vitamin-packed diet, staying hydrated can boost your immune health, too, Zumpano says.  

“Water helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune system cells,” she adds.  

Try to avoid overdoing beverages that can make you dehydrated, like coffee and soda. And try eating more hydrating foods, such as cucumbers, celery and watermelon. 

What about vitamin supplements for immune health? 

While vitamins and supplements can help fill in the gaps in your diet, the best way to load up on essential nutrients is to get them straight from the source, Zumpano states. 

Your body absorbs and uses vitamins and nutrients better when they come from the foods you eat than from a supplement.  

Some supplements may have side effects, too, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. And the effects of many supplements haven’t been tested in children, people who are pregnant and other groups. 

For these reasons, experts say it’s best to get your immune system-boosting vitamins through food rather than supplements if you can. 

If you think you need a supplement, Zumpano suggests talking with a healthcare provider first. “They can help you understand whether a supplement is right for you and advise you on how to get your fill of the nutrients your body needs.”

What boosts immune system the most?

Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters of all. In fact, researchers say vitamin C deficiency can make you more prone to getting sick. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, meaning it can protect your body from toxins that cause inflammation in your body.

What food boosts immune system?

10 foods to boost your immune system.
Berries. With a wide variety to choose from, you can't go wrong adding these little nutrient packed sweet treats to your regular diet. ... .
Fish oil. ... .
Leafy greens. ... .
Nuts and seeds. ... .
Spices. ... .
Citrus fruits. ... .
Poultry. ... .
Brightly colored vegetables..

What are 10 ways to boost your immune system?

Here are 10 tips to help build and keep a healthy immune system:.
1) Good gut health may be key. ... .
2) Wash your hands frequently. ... .
3) Work out on a regular basis. ... .
4) Shower after working out. ... .
5) Take vitamins. ... .
6) Reduce your stress level. ... .
7) Take up yoga and meditation. ... .
8) Practice deep breathing techniques..

How can I naturally boost my immune system?

Healthy ways to strengthen your immune system.
Don't smoke..
Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables..
Exercise regularly..
Maintain a healthy weight..
If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation..
Get adequate sleep..
Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly..