Can what you eat help you fight disease? The 4 best foods for your immune system

Fight coronavirus with food


Every day, your body makes it possible for you to think, dream, breathe, rest and move. Getting the right nutrients makes it easier for your body to support you. As one of the "three pillars of health," nutritious food helps support your immune system

Proper nutrition helps you fight off illness. Eating healthy:

  • Helps you fight all viral and bacterial infections more effectively 
  • Improves your mood and energy level
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
  • Can’t substitute for social distancing or wearing a mask around others
  • Can be a lifestyle, rather than a strict diet or counting calories

Every little bit of healthy eating helps your body fight disease more effectively. Read on to find out why some foods help your body fight invaders and others don’t. 

Inflammation: a cry for help

Eating foods that reduce inflammation (“anti-inflammatory” foods) helps your immune system.

When invaders arrive, your body sends out an SOS signal to alert your immune system with inflammation. Inflammation is a cry for help, a declaration of war to sound the alarm against invaders.


  • Helps your body kill invaders
  • Protects you from infection
  • Looks and feels like redness, swelling, heat and pain

The body regulates inflammation through the immune system. Your immune system can sound the alarm (cause inflammation) even without invaders around. This overreaction can be harmful. 

"Short term localized inflammation is beneficial for self-healing," says Amie Hollard, MD. "Long-lasting inflammation can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity."

Too much inflammation limits your body's ability to fight invaders like the coronavirus. Try these foods to reduce inflammation and help your immune system.

Foods that help your immune system

  1. Try new veggies and fruits. Specific veggies and fruits that reduce inflammation are apples, berries, tomatoes, celery and onions. 
  2. Add fermented foods. Fermented foods have “good bacteria,” a.k.a. probiotics that help your immune system. Eating more fermented foods also reduces gas, bloating and diarrhea. Sauerkraut, yogurt and kombucha are all great sources of these mighty microbes. 
  3. Drink more water. Water helps your body naturally remove toxins and also carries oxygen to your entire body. You don’t have to drink eight glasses of water a day to notice a difference in your health. A little extra hydration every day helps a lot.
  4. Get some omega-3s. Salmon, walnuts and chia seeds have omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation. These omega-3s are also perfect for construction. When creating new defenders, your body uses omega-3s as essential “building blocks” in cell walls. 

Foods to avoid to feel your best

  1. Limit processed foods. Salty, processed foods can limit your body’s ability to fight infectious diseases effectively. No need to cut out everything unhealthy or start a strict diet. Try scaling back just a little – replace chips with carrots for a crunchy snack.
  2. Minimize sugar. Sugar is okay in moderation, but too much sugar may weaken your immune system.
  3. Decrease high-fat foods. Your gut doesn’t like a lot of red meats or fatty foods. The mighty microbes in your gut prefer leafy greens, fiber and other nutrient-dense foods that are easier to break down.

Can supplements prevent viral and bacterial infections?

No single food, nutrient or supplement can prevent infections, but eating healthy helps your body fight disease. It’s all about balance. Supplements (like vitamins and minerals) can be helpful, but only if you’re not getting enough of those nutrients regularly. 

Supplements can actually be bad for you if you take too much at one time. Everything is best in moderation. If you have underlying or chronic health conditions, check with your primary care provider before taking them. 

Want to see your primary care provider from home? Get care anywhere with new telehealth options.

How food affects health

The foods you eat help your immune system. Inflammation is a natural alert to fight invaders. But, if it goes on too long, it can hurt you and your ability to fight disease effectively. 

Foods to help you reduce inflammation include:

  • Apples, berries, tomatoes, celery and onions (veggies and fruits)
  • Yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha (probiotics)
  • Salmon, walnuts and chia seeds (omega-3 fatty acids)

No matter your shape or size, your body is beautiful. It’s okay if you’ve been eating more comfort food than usual. See if there are ways to mix these invader-fighting foods into your lifestyle. A great first step would be adding a few new foods to your shopping list.

Each week, we’re focusing on one of the three pillars to improve your overall health and support your immune system.