5 Plant-Based Foods To Boost Your Immune System

Try these natural, plant-based immune boosters to survive cold and flu season.
immune system booster foods
January 22, 2020 1 Comment 3 min read

Ah-choo! Cold and flu season got you down? You’re not alone: the common cold is the most common reason people miss school and work, and adults average two to three colds per year. As for the flu, anywhere from 5–20% of the population will come down with this dreaded virus each year. While it’s true there’s no cure for the common cold, several fruits and vegetables can strengthen your immune system, helping you get sick less often, for less time and with milder symptoms. And this doesn’t just apply to colds and flu: many of the immune-boosting nutrients in plant foods also have been shown to also assist you on a larger scale, helping to prevent major illnesses such as cancer, accelerated aging and dementia.

Let’s take an in-depth look at five foods that can improve your immunity, along with the best ways to use them so that they are the most effective and, of course, the most delicious!


You may have heard about the benefits of high-end, expensive mushrooms like reishi or lion’s mane, which are typically available only in powdered form. But did you know that even plain old button mushrooms have immune boosting and tumor-inhibiting properties? In some ways, these are even more powerful than powdered, mushroom-based supplements, because you’re consuming a fresh, whole food, and getting a boost of other needed nutrients, like fiber.

How you eat mushrooms affects their antioxidant content: avoid boiling or frying them, which can break down some of their nutrients, and instead opt for the grill. Looking for a scrumptious way to enjoy mushrooms? Try this risotto from Day One of Oprah’s 30 day OMD plan.


When you think of vitamin C (one of the most important vitamins for human health), chances are you think of orange juice. While citrus fruits are indeed well known for being loaded with vitamin C, peppers actually have more — with bell peppers containing more than 100 milligrams per serving. Raw peppers will have the highest vitamin content, and how you cook them affects how much is retained. Dry-heat cooking such as stir-frying retains the most, while wet-heat cooking, like boiling, keeps the least.


It’s worth risking odoriferous breath when it comes to this food. Garlic contains sulfur compounds that not only boost immunity, they also lower inflammation. However, those compounds decrease drastically when garlic is cooked. How to handle the pungent taste of raw garlic? Pair it with other strong flavors! Try pesto; in this pea pesto recipe, the garlic flavor is mellowed by lemon juice, peas, nutritional yeast and olive oil.


Yes, there really is some truth to that old adage about apples and doctors. The reason that apples increase immunity is twofold: they contain quercetin and pectin. Quercetin is an antioxidant that increases immunity in multiple ways, and pectin is a form of fiber that, while best known nutritionally for assisting with weight loss, also boosts immunity and has been studied as a way to activate cancer-fighting cells. Because apples are high in quercetin and pectin whether eaten raw or cooked, enjoy them any way you wish: whether you’re eating them straight out of the fridge in your hand, or baked into a pie, both will offer health benefits.


For thousands of years, this little plant has been used to naturally treat everything from colds to cancer. Ginger contains many different bioactive compounds, and is available in numerous forms: fresh, dried, powdered and pickled are just a few of the most popular. Though it’s been used medicinally in places like India and China for thousands of years, it’s only recently that ginger has been studied by western medicine. Research has found it to be useful in treating tumors, mononucleosis, high blood pressure, and much more. Ginger has a strong, spicy flavor, so we suggest starting with small amounts of powdered ginger, which is milder tasting, before moving on to fresh.

What's Next?

On a health journey? Check out our blog about iron-boosting plant-based foods!

About the Author

Ariane Resnick is a chef, nutritionist, and bestselling author who uses accessible whole food ingredients to craft recipes that can be made by anyone, regardless of cooking skills or diet restrictions. Her clientele includes an array of celebrities and she has appeared on CBS’ “The Doctors,” ABC News, and Food Network’s “Chopped.”

1 Comment

  • Sharon

    I heard your interview with Oprah and it really moved me. I work in healthcare and love the concept and the steps to a healthier life!!

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