** All information in this article is intended to motivate readers to make their own nutrition and health decisions after consulting with their health care provider. 

We all know that food fuels our body – it is the ‘petrol’ that helps our body function at peak performance. But did you know that it can also act as our very own ‘nutritional army’ in the fight against illness?  Yes, nature has it’s own ‘superfoods’ that have helped ward off sickness for centuries.  In this day and age, one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to prepare our bodies to be ‘fighting machines’ – to be as prepared as possible to fight off colds, flu and other viruses.

These are 7 foods that will help to boost our immune systems (plus some bonus suggestions):

1. Garlic

Garlic has played an important dietary and medicinal role throughout the history of mankind. Not only does garlic add punch to our pasta, it is a powerful anti-viral. Researchers have widely believed that the organic compound, allicin – which gives garlic its aroma and flavour – acts as the world’s most powerful antioxidant.  

2. Black tea

What South African wouldn’t be pleased to hear that black tea can protect our body against a variety of viral infections? Tea is the cheapest, most widely consumed beverage in the world after water. While it has little nutritional value per se, good tea is refreshing, mildly stimulating, and gives a feeling of well-being.  The health benefits of tea have been known for almost 5000 years. Tea leaves contain naturally-occurring compounds – including polyphenols, catechins, and alkaloids such as caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline – that defend against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Pour us another cup, please!

3. Ginger

Ginger has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat colds and flu. Modern studies show that it has measurable antiviral benefits. In one such study, fresh ginger helped protect against HSRV (Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus), a major cause of lower respiratory tract infections. So let’s start adding ginger to more recipes than just ‘lockdown ginger beer’.

4. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar is another darling in the antioxidant family. With a variety of healthful properties, including antimicrobial and antioxidant effects, evidence suggests apple cider vinegar may offer benefits, such as weight loss, reducing cholesterol, lowering blood sugar levels, and improving the symptoms of diabetes. How much apple cider vinegar should one drink?  One to two tablespoons (15-30 ml) be taken each day, mixed with water. But don’t take more than one tablespoon at a time as too much in one sitting could cause nausea.

5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon, another favourite, has been used in herbal medicine for hundreds of years. In a study comparing the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon wound up as the clear winner, even outranking “superfoods” like garlic and oregano. Chemical profiling shows that it’s active compounds have antiviral, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory effects. But take care – not all cinnamon is created equal! The Cassia variety contains significant amounts of a compound called coumarin, which is believed to be harmful in large doses. So, when you’re shopping for cinnamon, look out for the Ceylon variety.

6. Yoghurt 

Not only is yoghurt packed with vitamins and protein, it’s also a source of lactobacillus, a probiotic (or beneficial type of bacteria) that helps fight off the bad guys and also gives your immune system a boost. It can enhance respiratory tract immunity, speed up recovery, and lessen the severity of respiratory infections caused by the flu virus. All great reasons to eat a serving of yoghurt every day.

7. Coconut oil

Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) not only adds flavour to many of our favourite recipes, it also contains lauric acid and caprylic acid. Both of these elements are essential for boosting the immune system against viruses. So, instead of reaching for the butter next time you’re making toast or popcorn, grab some coconut oil.


Add these to the list . . . 

During this cold and flu season, there are many healthy foods that help boost our immune systems.  For instance, foods that are rich in resveratrol such as peanuts, pistachios, grapes, red and white wine, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, and even cocoa and dark chocolate, are wonderful antioxidants. 

Stock up on vitamin C-rich foods such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage and other leafy greens, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes. 

Herbs can also help boost immunity. Oreganum, tulsi, dried thyme, and turmeric are great for immunity. They can be used in teas or curries for respiratory health, including mucous problems.

Finally, minerals like zinc and selenium should be included in your diet. They can be found in almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, unsalted cashew nuts and unsalted pistachios.

The best defense is a good offense

Don’t forget that all of these healthy foods should go hand-in-hand with good exercise and proper sleep. After all, the best defense is a good offense. And, in the case of immune-boosting foods, do all you can to provide your body with the best fuel possible.

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