You don’t actually want to ‘boost’ your immune system

The cold weather is well and truly here, so you’re likely to see a lot of “immune-boosting”  juices, recipes and supplements kicking around the internet. But dietitian Melissa Meier wants you to know why that terminology is just plain wrong. She shares 10 foods to consume if you want a “strong” immune system, instead. 

Not only are we in the midst of winter, but a worldwide pandemic, too – so it’s no wonder people are interested in boosting their immune system. But it turns out you don’t actually want to boost your immune system. What you want is a strong immune system.

Here’s why.

Your immune system, explained

In a nutshell, your immune system maintains your body’s cells and protects them from infection, keeping you healthy. Of course, you want your immune system to be fighting fit –but you don’t actually want your immune system to be in overdrive. Just like an under-active immune system is not ideal, an over-active immune system can lead to all sorts of problems, including allergies and autoimmune diseases. So, here’s my take-home message: stop using the terminology ‘boost your immune system’. Got it? Good.

That being said, you obviously want a strong immune system – and there’s plenty you can do, nutrition-wise, to help with that goal. So, without further ado, here are ten foods that’ll support a healthy immune system.

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Ten foods to support immune function


Strawberries are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants – and as a bonus, they’re in season in winter. Use them on top of porridge, in a smoothie or as a sweet afternoon snack.


Beef is rich in iron, which works in partnership with enzymes in the immune system. Enjoy a small amount slow-cooked in a stew or alongside roasted potatoes for a hearty winter warmer.


For a plant-based boost of iron, legumes (think: beans, chickpeas and lentils) are a really good choice. Plus, they’re full of fibre, which keeps you feeling full and supports a healthy gut.


Orange fruit and veg are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in your body. This vitamin has a key role in creating antibodies, which fight infection. Pumpkin soup, anyone?


Vitamin D plays a role in regulating your immune system. Aside from the sun, eggs are one of the best sources of Vitamin D you can get your hands on! Enjoy them poached or fried for breakfast a few times a week, or hard-boiled in a salad or as a snack.


Oysters are exceptionally high in zinc, without enough of which, your immune system will weaken. But did you really need another reason to order that half dozen at the start of every restaurant meal?


With double the Vitamin C content of oranges gram for gram, kiwifruits are a winner with immune health in mind. Enjoy them whole or chopped up and scattered over muesli or yoghurt.


Peas (yes, the humble staple you have in your freezer) provide pre-biotics, which keep your good gut bugs happy. That’s a win, because the majority of your immune system lies in your gut, so you want it to be in tip-top shape.


Like it hot? Chilli is rich in Vitamin C, another type of antioxidant that fights disease. Gram for gram, chilli has one of the highest Vitamin C contents of all foods – so a little goes a long way.


Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which has antimicrobial effects. Use it as a flavour maker instead of the salt shaker and your health will thank you for it.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her at Honest Nutrition or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.