Medical professionals are learning one of the best ways to support the immune system and reduce inflammation is not just via the medicine cabinet but via the diet. Many experimental studies show that components of food can have anti-inflammatory and immune supporting effects. Dr. Naomi Newman-Beinart, PhD explains that diet is a place where we can all support a healthy immune response by making food choices that calm inflammation while boosting the immune system. 


• Mushrooms and oats contain the plant chemicals beta-glucans which are immune modulators. (1,2)

• Fresh ginger contains antiviral and anti-inflammatory compounds. (3,4,5)

• Garlic contains the compound allicin that has been shown to be antimicrobial (6,7). 

• Brazil nuts are a source of selenium which is needed for a optimal immune system. (8,9)

Adequate protein is important for immune health. The mineral zinc is found in protein rich foods and is vital for a healthy immune system and is a nutrient depleted in viral infection. (10,11)

• Onions, apples and cocoa powder all contain quercetin, which is a potent immune supporting bioflavonoid. (12,13)

• Berries, green tea, black tea, herbal tea and cocoa all contain polyphenols. These phyto-chemicals help a normal inflammatory response and may be immune boosting.(14,15)

Fermented vegetables and probiotic-containing foods help support a healthy microbiome which in turn is shown to help provide immune modulation. (16,17)

Brightly colored vegetables and fruits have been shown in clinical research to boost immunity. Suggested intake is between 5 to 10 servings per day. (18)

Omega 3 oils found in fish, hempseed and chia seed have been shown to modulate the immune system, reducing inflammation. (19, 20)


Foods that may reduce immunity and increase inflammation are best eaten in moderation or avoided. 

Inflammatory oils including animal fats, and refined oils high in omega six. Examples of these oils to avoid include soybean oil, sunflower seed oil, rapeseed oil, trans fats and saturated fats. (21,22)

Refined carbohydrates are best avoided these include white flour, simple sugars like cane sugar or corn syrup and concentrated fruit juices. (23,24)

By Dr. Naomi Newman-Beinart, PhD
Nutritionist (BSc) and Specialist in Health Psychology (PhD)
Member of CThA and BAPEN


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3: Lin LL, Shan JJ, Xie T, et al. Application of Traditional Chinese Medical Herbs in Prevention and Treatment of Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:6082729. doi:10.1155/2016/6082729

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6: Borlinghaus J, Albrecht F, Gruhlke MC, Nwachukwu ID, Slusarenko AJ. Allicin: chemistry and biological properties. Molecules. 2014 Aug 19;19(8):12591-618. doi: 10.3390/molecules190812591. PMID: 25153873; PMCID: PMC6271412.

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8: Avery JC, Hoffmann PR. Selenium, Selenoproteins, and Immunity. Nutrients. 2018;10(9):1203. Published 2018 Sep 1. doi:10.3390/nu10091203

9: Steinbrenner H, Al-Quraishy S, Dkhil MA, Wunderlich F, Sies H. Dietary selenium in adjuvant therapy of viral and bacterial infections. Adv Nutr. 2015;6(1):73-82. Published 2015 Jan 15. doi:10.3945/an.114.007575

10: Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 25;9(12):1286. doi: 10.3390/nu9121286. PMID: 29186856; PMCID: PMC5748737.

11: Gammoh NZ, Rink L. Zinc in Infection and Inflammation. Nutrients. 2017 Jun 17;9(6):624. doi: 10.3390/nu9060624. PMID: 28629136; PMCID: PMC5490603.

12: Wu W, Li R, Li X, et al. Quercetin as an antiviral agent inhibits influenza A virus (IAV) entry. Viruses. 2015;8(1):E6. doi:10.3390/v8010006

13: Wu W, Li R, Li X, et al. Quercetin as an antiviral agent inhibits influenza A virus (IAV) entry. Viruses. 2015;8(1):E6. doi:10.3390/v8010006

14: Yi YS. Regulatory roles of flavonoids on inflammasome activation during inflammatory responses. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2018;62(13):e1800147. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201800147

15: Yahfoufi N, Alsadi N, Jambi M, Matar C. The Immunomodulatory and Anti-Inflammatory Role of Polyphenols. Nutrients. 2018 Nov 2;10(11):1618. doi: 10.3390/nu10111618. PMID: 30400131; PMCID: PMC6266803.

16: Rooks MG, Garrett WS. Gut microbiota, metabolites and host immunity. Nat Rev Immunol. 2016 May 27;16(6):341-52. doi: 10.1038/nri.2016.42. PMID: 27231050; PMCID: PMC5541232.

17: Kau AL, Ahern PP, Griffin NW, Goodman AL, Gordon JI. Human nutrition, the gut microbiome and the immune system. Nature. 2011 Jun 15;474(7351):327-36. doi: 10.1038/nature10213. PMID: 21677749; PMCID: PMC3298082.

18: Dreher ML. Whole Fruits and Fruit Fiber Emerging Health Effects. Nutrients. 2018;10(12):1833. Published 2018 Nov 28. doi:10.3390/nu10121833

19: Gutiérrez S, Svahn SL, Johansson ME. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(20):5028. Published 2019 Oct 11. doi:10.3390/ijms20205028

20: Calder PC, Carr AC, Gombart AF, Eggersdorfer M. Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System Is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 23;12(4):1181. doi: 10.3390/nu12041181. PMID: 32340216; PMCID: PMC7230749.

21: Li M, van Esch BCAM, Wagenaar GTM, Garssen J, Folkerts G, Henricks PAJ. Pro- and anti-inflammatory effects of short chain fatty acids on immune and endothelial cells. Eur J Pharmacol. 2018 Jul 15;831:52-59. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2018.05.003. Epub 2018 May 9. PMID: 29750914.

22: Radzikowska U, Rinaldi AO, Çelebi Sözener Z, et al. The Influence of Dietary Fatty Acids on Immune Responses. Nutrients. 2019;11(12):2990. Published 2019 Dec 6. doi:10.3390/nu11122990

23: Manzel A, Muller DN, Hafler DA, Erdman SE, Linker RA, Kleinewietfeld M. Role of "Western diet" in inflammatory autoimmune diseases. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2014 Jan;14(1):404. doi: 10.1007/s11882-013-0404-6. PMID: 24338487; PMCID: PMC4034518.

24: Myles IA. Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity. Nutr J. 2014 Jun 17;13:61. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-61. PMID: 24939238; PMCID: PMC4074336.