Immunity Nutrition

Immunity Nutrition

Nicole Pin, MAN, RD

Our immune system is our primary defense against potentially harmful pathogens and microorganisms, like the ones you might find in some of the common colds and coughs that always seem to surface this time of year. While there is no magic pill to prevent the common cold, a balanced diet can help boost immunity and ward off those nasty cold and flu germs.

So what nutrients should you focus on to build immunity?

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant supporting healthy immune function and reducing the damage of inflammation by helping stimulate the formation of antibodies. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, strawberries, peppers, sweet potatoes, spinach and tomatoes are all good sources.

Vitamin E is another antioxidant that supports immune function. Vitamin E not only helps the body produce more immune cells, but can help prevent the natural weakening of the immune system as we age. Include almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts and spinach in your diet to boost vitamin E intake.

Zinc is critical when it comes to growth and function of different types of immune cells. It also helps reduce oxidative stress, or cell damage, within the body. The best sources of zinc include lean meat and fish, eggs, legumes, peanut butter and whole grains.

Probiotics help us maintain a strong gut microbiome and can boost levels of anti-inflammatory compounds in our gut. Try increasing fermented foods like plain yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut or kombucha. 

Polyphenols can help prevent free radicals and decrease pro-inflammatory damage in the body. There are thousands of polyphenols that exist in different foods, such as herbs and spices, fruits, vegetables, tea, chocolate, and coffee. If you’re starting to feel under the weather, an herbal tea or hot water with lemon and ginger might just be the polyphenol boosting hot drink you need!

Student holding a plate of food with eggs, vegetables, fruit

What about supplements?

While there are lots of claims and gimmicks out there advertising cold and flu remedies and supplements, there is very little evidence to support these products. The biggest way to prevent illness and minimize cold symptoms, is to maintain a healthy immune system by taking care of your body and choosing healthy foods.  If you are concerned that you aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals to support immunity from diet alone, talk to your health professional about how you can increase your intake.