Our immune system is never off duty. It carries out surveillance constantly, and when we become infected, it needs extra resources to do its job. A growing library of evidence supports how vital our daily food choices are for the efficient running of our immune system. That’s because our diet and nutrition play a central role in supporting immune cells, allowing them to respond effectively to potential invaders while resolving the response quickly to avoid ongoing illness.
There are some simple dietary steps we can all take to support our immune system, which includes reducing our intake of sugar, salt and processed meats and opting instead for whole fruit, non-starchy vegetables, legumes and wholegrains, as well as lean sources of protein and oily fish.
Discover more tips for digestive health and browse our immune-friendly recipes. Also check out our health and nutrition page for more recipe inspiration, health benefits guides and advice on special diets.
Our top 10 immune supportive recipes
1. Clementine & vanilla porridge with citrus salsa
If you’re short of time in the mornings this is the breakfast for you – it’s prepared the evening before so you just need to reheat and enjoy.
It’s well known that citrus fruit is a rich source of vitamin C. This important vitamin accumulates at high levels in our white blood cells, the immune cells responsible for fighting pathogens and it supports the activity of other immune defenders called Natural Killer (NK) cells. Evolution has meant, unlike other mammals, we don’t produce our own vitamin C so we need to eat fruit and vegetables every day.
In this recipe, we’ve soaked the oats overnight – this makes it super speedy to prepare, easy to digest and reduces a natural compound called phytic acid. This compound binds to minerals, including iron and zinc, making them less available for absorption. By pre-soaking the oats we’re optimising our body’s uptake of these valuable minerals.
For more inspiration, check out our healthy oat recipes collection.
2. Kimchi scrambled eggs
This delicious twist on an all-time favourite makes an ideal brunch for your immune system. Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish made of fermented vegetables and we think it’s the perfect ingredient to add punch to scrambled eggs.
As a fermented food, kimchi contributes live bacteria which are key to keeping our gut and immune systems running smoothly as well as producing immune-supporting metabolites called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). This is important because 70% of our immune defences reside in our gut and the presence of these microbes is important for maintaining immune balance. Studies suggest regularly eating fermented foods has a positive effect on our immune system. There’s no recommended daily amount, but what is clear, is we should be eating more fermented foods, like kimchi.
If you don’t make your own, buy wisely – check labels and ensure your chosen kimchi clearly states that it is raw and unpasteurised.
Why not try some more of our kimchi recipes?
3. Thai mackerel sweet potato traybake
This one-pan supper is packed with nutritional goodness. The sweet potato supplies carotenoids which stimulate the production of B-cells – these immune cells produce antibodies and are key to stopping pathogens in their tracks.
Mackerel is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important part in modulating our immune responses. Omega-3 fats are essential to many aspects of health including immune cell production, which is why guidelines recommend we include fish twice per week, with at least one portion being the oily variety. Vegetarians and vegans should include plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids like chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.
4. Spicy mushroom broccoli noodles
Favoured for their rich, savoury flavour mushrooms add depth to a dish. The benefits of mushrooms don’t stop there. If they’re exposed to UV light, mushrooms can be a useful plant source of vitamin D (D2). We need vitamin D for normal immune function with inadequate levels potentially disrupting how our immune system responds to infection.
Shiitake mushrooms have a long history of use as both a culinary ingredient and an immune support. One reason for the latter is that regular consumption of shiitake appears to increase a type of antibody called Secretory Immunoglobulin A (SIgA) which plays a key role in protecting membranes like the gut lining and the membranes of our respiratory system.
Enjoy more mushroom recipes.
5. Tomato & spinach kitchari
We’ve used a mix of spices in this warming dish. Spices support the immune system because they have a prebiotic effect, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and regulating the community of microbes which live in our gut. This is important because the stability of our gut bacteria influences the balance of our immune system. The good news is that even at the doses used in cooking, spices appear to have this valuable effect.
Try some of our other gut-friendly recipes.
6. Lentil salad with tahini dressing
This nutrient-packed salad is full of immune benefits, from the vitamin-rich vegetables to the gut-friendly live yogurt. That’s not all – our lentil salad is a fabulous source of fibre. Choosing fibre-rich foods is important for digestive health because it plays an integral role in immunity, leading to the production of SCFAs which help regulate immune function.
Feeling inspired try some of our other fibre-rich recipes?
7. Slow cooker chicken soup
Bringing us warmth and comfort when we’re feeling under the weather, it’s no myth that chicken soup is an all-time immune saviour. It is, of course, rich in vitamins and minerals, but it’s the protein from the chicken which supports the production of antibodies which we need to fight infection.
Chicken soup has also been shown to have a mild anti-inflammatory effect which is especially helpful for respiratory tract infections.
Try some of our other chicken soup recipes.
8. Spring cabbage with mustard seeds
By chopping or shredding brassica vegetables, like cabbage, you activate the production of a plant compound called sulforaphane. This plant compound provides protection against inflammatory reactions and has been shown to be useful for auto-immune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
We’ve optimised the levels of sulforaphane in our recipe by shredding the cabbage, lightly cooking it and combining it with mustard seeds.
Try some of our other cabbage recipes.
9. Herby lamb fillet with caponata
Minerals like iron play an important role in immune function, with both deficiency and excess influencing how our immune system works. One of the roles iron plays is in the production of white blood cells, these cells are vital during the fight against infection.
In the UK, iron deficiency is common in both girls and women. Our delicious lamb dish uses lean lamb fillets combined with vitamin C-rich vegetables to optimise your absorption of this important mineral. For those following a vegetarian diet, non-haem iron may be found in wholegrains, nuts, seeds and dried fruits.
Vegetarian? Check out our iron-rich veggie recipes.
10. Mussels with tomatoes and chilli
Zinc is crucial for the development and function of immune cells and for wound healing. Unlike some other nutrients, we don’t store zinc so we need to ensure we’re getting adequate amounts in our diets. Useful sources include meat, pulses, nuts and shellfish including oysters, mussels and shrimps.
Inspired? Try some of our other mussels recipes.
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This page was published on 1st December 2020.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a BANT Registered Nutritionist® with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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