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Healthy Immune System–Supporting Foods for the Fall
By Joe Boland
September 6, 2023
The immune system is the body’s built-in first line of defense, and it’s important to keep it healthy year-round. However, when the weather starts to go from the hot summer months to the cooler fall season, it’s a perfect time to add some of these “Fall” foods that can help support a healthy immune system.
So what foods help support a healthy immune system, and how do you get these healthy immune system supporting foods into your diet? Keep reading to find out. (Note: Maintaining a healthy immune system requires a healthy diet and lifestyle, including stress reduction, adequate rest, regular exercise, proper hand-washing and hygiene, etc.)
Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including these foods and/or any dietary supplements.
The relationship between foods and a healthy immune system is critical for overall health. Foods play a crucial role in supporting and strengthening immune system health because getting the proper mix of nutrients is required for cells to function properly, including immune cells.
A well-balanced and nutritious diet provides essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients that help the immune system work optimally. That’s because, as noted by Harvard Health, “each stage of the body’s immune response relies on the presence of many micronutrients.”
We also know that the human microbiome is linked to the immune system, and what you eat has a major impact on the health of the gut microbiome. Ultra-processed, unhealthy foods can disrupt gut microbiota, which in turn can negatively affect the immune system.
Conversely, prebiotic and probiotic foods support and boost the microbiome, which in turn makes them foods that support a healthy immune system. It turns out, there are many other foods that support immune system health as well.
As you can see, there is a clear link between nutrition and a healthy immune system. That’s why you should consume healthy immune system–supporting foods regularly — and fall foods are a great place to start.
A true superfood, benefit-rich bone broth also makes the list of healthy immune system supporting foods due to its ability to support the gut thanks to the presence of collagen, gelatin and amino acids.
How to boost gut health? These compounds help promote a healthy gut lining, and research shows bone broth consumption can help with a healthy response to inflammation as well as promoting an overall healthy immune system.
You can add powder made from bone broth to smoothies and just about any meal. You can also make your own with this Bone Broth Recipe, and autumn is the perfect time to try some of these Bone Broth Soup Recipes.
Ginger is another immune system health–supporting food thanks to its ability to promote a healthy response to inflammation and its antioxidant properties. Healthy inflammation levels and keeping oxidative stress in balance help to promote overall immune system health, and ginger helps keep both of those in check. Research also finds that adding more ginger to the diet can help promote overall health and immune system health.
You can add ginger to just about any dish, or better yet, you can combine ginger with turmeric — another food that supports immune system health — with a Ginger Turmeric Tonic or Ginger Turmeric Shots.
Mushrooms are known to help promote normal, healthy immune cells that help to promote overall health and more. They're also known to support a healthy response to inflammation, which, in turn, promotes healthy immune system function.
You can eat mushrooms in a variety of ways, either cooked or raw. Put them in salads, cook them up and serve with a hearty dish, or try this Superfood Stuffing that includes cremini mushrooms, cauliflower and bone broth. It’s perfect for fall!
Citrus fruits are some of the top vitamin C foods, and vitamin C is one of the most important micronutrients when it comes to promoting a healthy immune system — so it’s unsurprising that vitamin C foods are also immune system healthy supporting foods. Vitamin C provides a healthy response to inflammation and antioxidant properties that benefit immune system health.
Some of the top citrus fruits include oranges, lemon and grapefruit. You can eat fruit on its own or add it to just about anything. Try these Lemon Protein Bars to start.
Other fall fruits include:
Passion fruit (try these Guava Passion Fruit Bars.)
Guava (indulge in Tropical Ice Cream with Guava Passionfruit)
Pomegranates (use pomegranate powder in this Morning Smoothie)
Elderberry (make Elderberry Tea)
Carrots are a high source of antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene and carotenoids, both of which have been shown in many research studies to help benefit a healthy immune system. They do this by helping to fight against free radicals and promoting a healthy response to inflammation.
Another fall seasonal food that’s loaded with antioxidants and beta-carotene is pumpkin. Some research shows eating pumpkin can help promote overall health. It’s also high in vitamin C and vitamin A, two micronutrients that play a critical role in supporting immune system health.
There is no shortage of pumpkin recipes. Try some of the following:
Like many orange fruits and veggies, sweet potatoes are high in healthy immune system–supporting beta-carotene, along with several other antioxidants. They're also loaded with vitamin A, which some research shows helps promote the normal, healthy production of immune cells.
Since immune system health relies on a variety of micronutrients in the normal activation of cells, leafy greens make some the best foods that support a healthy immune system. Why? They're loaded with:
vitamins C, E, A and K
Some of the best fall leafy greens include kale, spinach, collard greens and arugula. You can make a slew of salads with these greens, along with adding them to any number of dishes to help support immune system health.
As noted by Harvard Health (and mentioned above), prebiotic and probiotic foods can do wonders for the gut, which in turn can do wonders for immune system health. Some of the best pre- and probiotic foods to consume include:
apple cider vinegar
Eat more fermented foods (aka probiotic foods) as sides or snacks.
Apples benefit the gut thanks to their fiber content, and the vitamin C and antioxidants do wonders for supporting a healthy immune system. In fact, eating apples is even associated with maintaining optimal health, according to some research.
Research shows cruciferous veggies are loaded with antioxidants and can support a healthy response to inflammation. As a result, they are some of the best foods that support immune system health, helping to promote overall healthy immune function.
Some of the top cruciferous vegetables to eat, particularly in the fall, include cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi.
Thanks to its vitamin C content, fennel is an immune system health–supporting food — plus it helps digestion, which we know can help with an overall healthy immune system. Fennel also helps promote a healthy response to inflammation.
Use fennel seeds and part of the bulb to spice up soups, brines and other dishes that could use a warming flavor.