Healthy immune systems call for sound nourishment, after all, malnourished people are more prone to disease, and while no single food will 'boost' your immune system, a healthy, balanced, ideally Mediterranean-style diet will help keep it in optimum condition.
The older you are, the more likely you are to be deficient in micronutrients such as vitamins A, B6, C , D and E, and minerals including zinc, selenium and copper, which are essential for a healthy immune system.
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A lack of these micronutrients in your diet can leave you more vulnerable to infection. With this in mind, we've selected 10 micronutrient-loaded foods you may want to stock up on. Again, it's important to eat a variety of these foods rather than binge on a single virtuous food in isolation, so aim to cover all bases micronutrient-wise by including as many of them in your diet as possible.
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A bona fide wonderfood, spinach is packed with vitamins and minerals that support a healthy immune system. The wholesome leafy green is an excellent source of vitamins, A, B2, B6, C and E, not to mention minerals such as calcium and potassium. Spinach is also a good source of vitamin B1, zinc and phosphorus. You can't go wrong.
Discover our delicious spinach recipes
Partial to a can of tuna or two? The popular oily fish is immune system-friendly thanks to its robust nutritional profile. Tuna is particularly rich in B vitamins, selenium, fatty acids and quality protein. The fish also makes for a superlative source of vitamin D – a small 85-gram/three-ounce can of tuna provides 100% of your RDA of the sunshine vitamin.
Find tempting tuna recipes
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A key vegetable in the Mediterranean diet, the humble red pepper is brimming with healthy micronutrients. For starters, the veggie is a stellar source of vitamins A, B6 and C. Red peppers are a decent source of vitamins B2, B5 and E too, as well as minerals including potassium. Eating your peppers raw is best as cooking can break down water-soluble B vitamins and vitamin C.
Try this recipe for pumpkin and red pepper soup
The sweet potato is another micronutrient-loaded vegetable you may want to stock up on. The tasty root veggie is jam-packed with vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, and provides a very good source of immunity-supporting vitamins B6 and C, and minerals such as copper and manganese.
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Research is emerging that probiotics are essential for a healthy immune system. In fact, a number of recently published reviews suggest that probiotics may lessen the risk of developing upper respiratory tract infections by up to 42%. Foods that are rich in probiotics include bio yoghurt, kefir, fermented vegetables and apple cider vinegar.
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Making sure you get your RDA of vitamin E is key if you want to keep your immune system in tip-top condition. Almonds are an outstanding source of the essential vitamin – a small handful provides around 35% of your RDA. Almonds are also rich in minerals that support the immune system such as magnesium, calcium and potassium.
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Recipe: blueberry and almond friands
A growing body of evidence indicates that people who eat mushrooms on a regular basis have increased immunity. For instance, a University of Florida study published in 2015 found that people who ate a cooked shitake mushroom every day for four weeks had stronger immune systems as a result. Mushrooms are rich in vitamin B6, copper and selenium, and make for one of the few vegetable-derived sources of vitamin D.
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Try our yummy mushroom recipes
Delicious sprinkled on your morning cereal or porridge, sunflower seeds are rich in a variety of immunity-supporting micronutrients. The little seeds are a superb source of vitamins B1 and E, as well as minerals including copper, and they are crammed with antioxidants and essential fatty acids, too.
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Many people turn to ginger during the colder months of the year to bolster their immune system and for very good reason. The pungent root is loaded with gingerol volatile oils that inhibit inflammation and support immunity. Ginger also has diaphoretic properties that promote perspiration, helping the body rid itself of toxins, so it's ideal if you're feeling feverish.
Learn more about the health benefits of ginger
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Like ginger, garlic contains a number of properties that help support the immune system. An excellent source of pro-immunity micronutrients such as sulphur and selenium, garlic has been shown to increase disease-fighting T-cells in the body. The high sulphur content also helps the body absorb essential minerals such as zinc, which are vital if you want to maintain a strong immune system.
Find out more about how garlic affects your health
Creamy garlic mushrooms on toast