3 Immunity-Boosting Ingredients RDs Want You to Add to Your Diet

Stocking up on these healthy ingredients will help keep colds at bay.

Eating our way to better health is a popular course of wellness these days, and rightfully so. But when it comes to boosting one's immune system through food, some are still stalling out after a few orange slices or the usual vitamin C (or Emergen-C) routine. According to registered dietitians, there are plenty of other edible options we can stock up on to increase our immunity.

Here, we've pulled together three of the top ingredients recommended by dietitians that are a step above what you might be used to when it comes to preparing for cold and flu season.

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Yerba Mate

We know that a diet filled with antioxidant-packed foods is one of the best strategies for maintaining a strong immune system. But to combat the inevitable office or school germs during flu season, you might want to try reaching for an even more powerful superfood. "Argentine Yerba Mate contains more antioxidants and a higher polyphenol content than green tea, and your body needs these powerful molecules even more during flu season when both the cold dry air and more time spent inside are contributing environments to the spreading of illness," says Keri Glassman, RD.

Yerba mate contains multiple nutrients that contribute to a strong immune system, including vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc. "It's also a warm, soothing drink that can be sipped throughout the day if you're feeling a bit under the weather, without the fear of unwanted jittery energy," Keri says. It can also be mixed with cashew milk for a slightly sweet beverage for morning sipping or whipped up into an energy-boosting smoothie to help beat the afternoon slump.

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Long loved for its antibacterial properties, ginger is a great immunity booster to add to your diet. "The functional components of ginger express antioxidant potential resulting in improved health outcomes specifically for inflammatory diseases. Because ginger has the potential to reduce oxidation, it can help to modulate immune responses," says Maya Feller, RD. Studies suggest it can also help to prevent nausea and soothe an upset stomach. "The ingredient can also be effective in lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) and reducing oxidation, thereby boosting immunity."

Ginger has many health benefits—including (but not limited to) boosting your immunity—so it's a smart idea to incorporate it into your daily nutrition routine. While ginger can be consumed fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, juiced, or powdered, for people who are unsure how to add it into their diets, Maya says the easiest way is to reach for a low-sugar ginger beer or gingery kombucha.

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While the research isn't 100 percent conclusive, elderberry has been used as a cold- and flu-fighting remedy for ages and is associated with immune-boosting benefits in some studies. Glassman says it's high in antioxidants like flavonoids and vitamin C, and has also been found to have an antiviral effect. "In addition, elderberry has been shown to have an antiviral effect in mice. More clinical trials are needed, but a few human studies have shown promising results," she says. In a study of 60 people with flu symptoms, participants who took 15 milliliters of elderberry syrup four times per day saw relief from their symptoms an average of four days earlier than those who didn't.

"While ingesting elderberry extract or syrup is totally safe, don't go picking the berries and popping them in your mouth—they need to be cooked," says Glassman. "Your best bet is to buy an organic, high-quality syrup or extract." Also, don't expect a spoonful of syrup to address other habits that might be wreaking havoc on your body's defenses, like lack of sleep or chronic stress, but adding elderberry to your daily routine could be a strategy worth trying.

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