Understanding Nutrition & Immune Health

January 30, 2022

There’s a lot of buzz around natural immune boosters and how to optimize diet to prevent illness. Let’s explore the connection between proper nutrition and strong immune health.

It’s the cold and flu season. It’s also the season for people to ask me about the latest cold-prevention strategy like 5-hour energy or vitamin C shots. And I always respond, “why not just eat an orange?” ….

Why should we eat immune-boosting foods and how can our diet support immune health?

There is no one food or nutrient that is going to be the magic aid to our immune system. On the contrary, it’s a wide range of nutrients that we need to support our immune health. Diets that include a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are going to be the most protective to our health, by providing a wide range of micro- and macronutrients that serve various roles in our bodies. Nutrients from food play important roles in all systems of our body, and the immune system is no different.

So what nutrients and their foods can we be including in our diet that will support our immune health?

  • Vitamin C is the most well-known immune system aid, as it plays a key role in the function of our innate and adaptive immune systems. Foods such as citrus fruits, red and green peppers, broccoli, potatoes, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and strawberries are just some of the great sources of vitamin C.
  • Protein is another famous immune system aid, as it promotes healing and recovery, to build up strength. Protein-rich foods include eggs, meat, poultry, cheese, and soy.
  • Vitamin E is a lesser known nutrient to look out for when it comes to immune health. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, fighting free radicals in the body, and studies have shown its ability to support other immune function as well. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, therefore unlike vitamin C, it is well absorbed. Foods full of vitamin E include wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter, collard greens, and red pepper.
  • Zinc’s role in immune function has been well established and like protein is important in wound healing. Foods high in zinc include meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grain, dairy, and other fortified products.
  • Probiotics is one of those nutrition terms that gets thrown around a lot. Probiotic foods are fermented foods that complement prebiotic foods, or high fiber (fruits, veggies, whole grain) foods, to colonize the gut with healthy bacteria and protect it. Probiotic foods such as tempeh, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso, also support our immune health through our gut microbiota (our gut bacteria).

Remember that although we can choose a healthy lifestyle, with food, exercise, sleep, and water, to support our immune system – we should also protect ourselves, medically. This can be through vaccines or other medical attention. Speak to your doctor.