Getting infected with a new strain of COVID even after two shots of vaccination will not be a pleasant experience. Unfortunately, sometimes your immunity may not be strong enough to prevent infection because of your lifestyle or an underlying clinical condition. While wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing has become second nature. Strengthening your immune system with adequate nutrition would certainly help your body deal with an Omicron infection or any new variant that could spread in the future.
Even though the idea of boosting immunity is appealing, it is not going to happen just by popping a Zincovit pill. The immune system is not a single entity but a complex process that requires balance and harmony to function well. You need to make sustainable behavioral changes to develop immunity and follow a healthy lifestyle. Being physically active and eating food that boosts your immunity over several months would significantly improve your chances of preventing infection.
When it comes to boosting immunity, a single food will not serve the purpose. You need a diet loaded with nutrients that nourish your immune cells. If you would like to change your diet yourself, the following list of foods with nutrients that enhance your immunity is for you.
Before you skim through the list below, note that a curated library of foods with all these nutrients is available on the Hint app. Feel free to check out the recipes section with foods categorized based on high levels of zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E levels. You can even track the intake of all these minerals and vitamins using the Hint app.
Nutrients to Boost Immunity
Zinc is an essential nutrient required for the proper functioning of the immune system. Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system, and it is necessary for adaptive and acquired immunity regulation and the production of immune cells. Zinc deficiency adversely affects the growth and function of immune cells1. The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for zinc is 17 mg/day for men and 13.2 mg/day for women. Foods containing zinc include meat, shellfish, poultry, nuts, and beans.
Magnesium is a crucial mineral that helps maintain electrolyte balance and strengthens the immune system. It significantly improves pulmonary function, the primary target of COVID-19 virus2. RDA for magnesium is 4 mg per day. Foods rich in magnesium are dark chocolate, black beans, avocados, and whole grains.
Vitamin C is essential for improving immunity for kids, adults, or even older adults. Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. Infections significantly impact vitamin C levels due to enhanced inflammation and metabolic requirements. Vitamin C also aids the body as a prooxidant for immune cells, antioxidant for lung epithelial cells, and immunosuppressive effects3.
RDA for vitamin C is 80 mg per day. Some vegetables like eggplant, bell peppers, beetroots, spinach, and cauliflower are known to be quite rich in vitamin C and are good for immunity. Green vegetables like broccoli, mushrooms, even kale are also good sources. Fruits like amla, oranges, sweet lime are excellent sources.
Vitamin D is another nutrient vital for boosting the immune system, and this vitamin contributes to a robust immune system and maintains bone health. Research suggests that high plasma vitamin D level increases the immune cells and lower the risk of colorectal cancer, where the immune system is compromised4.
RDA for vitamin D is 15 mcg per day. A clinical study stated that vitamin D supplementation with 4,000 IU/d reduced infection with the dengue virus5. The most common source of vitamin D is sunshine, and other sources include milk and milk products, egg yolk, fish, pomegranate seeds, mixed nuts, ragi, jackfruit, plum, apple, avocado, papaya.
Vitamin E is also known as the “beauty vitamin.” It is a vital nutrient for healthy glowing skin and hair. But do you know that vitamin E supports healthy immune function? Yes, vitamin E is essential for the effective functioning of the immune system. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can protect you from various infections, bacteria, and viruses.
RDA for vitamin E is 10 mg per day. Many foods have vitamin E, including vegetable oils such as wheat germ, sunflower, safflower oils, nuts such as almonds, pista, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and green vegetables such as spinach, and broccoli.
Food and Ingredients to Boost Immunity
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Did you know? 80% of the immunity lies in the gut because of trillions of healthy bacteria living there. And the count of these bacteria increases through - prebiotics and probiotics.
While prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that stimulate good bacteria and improve health, consuming prebiotics can improve immunity functions by increasing the population of protective microorganisms. Animal and human studies have shown that prebiotics can decrease harmful bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria6. Common examples of foods that contain prebiotics include banana, garlic, onion, whole grains, soya bean.
Probiotics are live microorganisms intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body. Studies on probiotics showed therapeutic potential for diseases, including immune response-related disorders, such as allergy, eczema, viral infection, and potentiating vaccination responses7. Foods high in probiotics include fermented products like idli, dosa, kefir, curd, buttermilk, paneer, tofu, cheese, pickles.
Garlic has been used since ancient times both as a food and medicine. Eating garlic provides many health benefits, and garlic contains numerous compounds that can boost immunity. The high medicinal value of garlic is attributed to the sulfur-containing compound allicin. Including garlic regularly boosts immunity and reduces the severity of cold and flu8.
The health benefits of ginger have been known since time immemorial. Ginger is used in various forms - fresh, dried, and oil. Fresh ginger has anti-viral activity against the human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines9.
Turmeric, the yellow spice used by many people in cooking, holds important medicinal properties due to the compound curcumin. Curcumin has received worldwide attention for its multiple health benefits, which appear to act primarily through its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms. Studies suggest that curcumin's reported beneficial effects in arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cancer might partly be due to its ability to modulate the immune system10.
Green tea is packed with antioxidants and helps boost immunity. Studies have shown the compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) enhances immunity. Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T cells 11.
Are you confused about how to include these foods in your diet? We have a library of recipes with these foods; all you have to do is search for the recipes containing them in the recipe section of the HINT app and start including them in your meals to boost your immunity.
- Prasad AS. Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells. Mol Med. 2008;14(5-6):353-357.
- Sanderson, S. "Immune System Defence with Vitamin C and Magnesium." (2020).
- Erol, A. (W2020). High‐dose intravenous vitamin C treatment for COVID‐19.
- Song M, Nishihara R, Wang M, et al. Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D and colorectal cancer risk according to tumor immunity statusGut 2016;65:296-304.
- Arshad MS, Khan U, Sadiq A, et al. Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and Immunity Booster Green Foods: A Mini-Review, Food Sci Nutr. 2020;8(8):3971-3976.
- Stinson LF, Payne MS, Keelan JPlanting the seed: Origins, composition, and postnatal health significance of the fetal gastrointestinal microbiota ACrit Rev Microbiol. 2017 May; 43(3):352-369.
- Yan F, Polk DB. Probiotics and immune health. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2011;27(6):496-501.
- Nantz MP, Rowe CA, Muller CE, Creasy RA, Stanilka JM, Percival SS. Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention. Clin Nutr. 2012 Jun;31(3):337-44. Doi:
- Chang JS, Wang KC, Yeh CF, Shieh DE, Chiang LC. Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has anti-viral activity against the human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines. Jop Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jan 9;145(1):146-51
- Jagetia GC, Aggarwal BB. "Spicing up" of the immune system by curcumin. J Clin Immunol. 2007 Jan;27(1):19-35. DOI: 10.1007/s10875-006-9066-7. Epub 2007 Jan 9.
- Christina L. Nance, Melinda Mata, Ashley McMullen, Sean McMaster, William T. Shearer, Regulation Of Innate Immune Recognition Of Viral Infection By Epigallocatechin Gallate, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Volume 133, Issue 2, Supplement,2014,