Top 10 immune-supportive recipes
Although we tend only to think about it during flu season, our immune defences need supporting all year round. We’ve selected 10 of our favourite recipes that champion your immunity – and pack in flavour
Your immune system is never off duty. It’s constantly surveying your body and, when you become infected, it needs extra resources to do its job. A growing body of research suggests that our daily food choices are vital 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 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 on time in the mornings this is the breakfast for you – it's prepared the evening before so you just need to reheat and enjoy.
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. Unlike other mammals, we don’t produce our own vitamin C so we need to get it from our diet – this means eating fruit and vegetables every day.
Oats may not be the first food you think about when it comes to supporting immunity, but perhaps they should be. They contain a type of fibre called beta-glucan which acts as an immune activator helping maintain the long-term responsiveness of our innate immunity, the first line of defence of our immune system.
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 a tasty punch to scrambled eggs.
Being a fermented food, kimchi contributes beneficial live bacteria which are key to keeping our gut and immune systems running smoothly. These are the gut bacteria that produce natural by-products called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which play a key role in maintaining immune balance. This is why fermented foods like kimchi are so important for both establishing and sustaining a healthy microbiome and in turn supporting a robust immune system. There’s no recommended daily amount, but what is clear is that we should be eating fermented foods more regularly.
If you don’t make your own kimchi, buy wisely – check labels and ensure your chosen product clearly states that it is raw and unpasteurised so that it contains the all-important bacteria.
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 help the production of B-cells – a type of immune cell that produces antibodies to fight germs. Certain B cells help form our immune memory and, by remembering the same pathogen, the body can create antibodies faster the next time we encounter it.
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 – such as mackerel, salmon, sardines or trout. If you are vegetarian or vegan be sure to include plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids like chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts and if appropriate consider a supplement.
4. Spicy mushroom broccoli noodles
As well as being a rich-tasting veggie warmer, this noodle recipe contains an important nutrient for immunity. Insufficient vitamin D may disrupt how our immune system responds to an infection, so it’s important to get enough. There are few food sources of vitamin D, and we mainly take it via sunlight. However, mushrooms have a handy mechanism by which, if you leave them out on the kitchen counter in direct light, the UV rays convert a compound called ergosterol to vitamin D (D2). Whichever type of mushroom you prefer, you can benefit from this process and boost your intake.
Shiitake mushrooms are the ones we’ve chosen for this recipe, as they have a long history of use as both a culinary ingredient and as an immune support. One reason for this is that regular consumption of shiitake mushrooms appears to increase a type of antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA), this plays a key role in protecting membranes such as those in the gut lining and the 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 as they have a prebiotic effect, meaning they act as a fuel source for beneficial gut bacteria. This helps increase and regulate the mix of microbes that live in our gut, and we know that the stability of our gut bacteria influences the balance of our immune system. The good news is that even at the doses we use in cooking, spices have this valuable effect.
Tomatoes and tomato products (including sauce and purée) are a rich source of lycopene and vitamin C, both these nutrients help increase the number of white blood cells that support our fight against disease and infection.
Try some of our other gut-friendly recipes.
6. Lentil salad with tahini dressing
From the vitamin-rich vegetables to the gut-friendly live yogurt, this salad is an immunity hero. What’s more, it’s a fabulous source of fibre. Choosing fibre-rich foods is not only essential for digestive health: it also plays an integral role in immunity. That’s because our gut bacteria needs fibre to convert to SCFAs (see above) which help regulate our immune system.
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 plant-based 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 & 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 reviewed on 8 September 2023 by Kerry Torrens, registered nutritionist.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a BANT Registered Nutritionist® with a post graduate diploma in personalised nutrition and 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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