Eating for your best immune system

In addition to Covid-19, cold and flu season is coming up. The good news? There are many ways to prevent getting sick.

You can work towards a healthy immune system by not smoking, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight. A healthy diet can also help your body fight off illness. Focus on nutrients and foods that help support your immune system all winter long!

Vitamin A

• Helps battle infections
• Helps white blood cells do their job [1]
• Low levels can increase your risk for infection
Sources of vitamin A [2]:
• Sweet potatoes
• Carrots
• Red peppers
• Mangos
• Black-eyed peas
• Apricots

B vitamins

• B6 and B12 help white blood cells grow
• Low levels of B6 can lead to problems producing antibodies, which recognize and fight invaders in the body
• Low vitamin B9 can cause issues with white blood cells
Sources of B vitamins:
• Chickpeas [3]
• Salmon
• Fortified breakfast cereals
• Asparagus [4]
• Avocado
• Low-fat milk

Vitamin C

• Helps white blood cells grow in numbers when there is an infection [5]
• It is an antioxidant, meaning it helps reduce harmful free radicals that are made in the body
Sources of vitamin C [6]:
• Red peppers
• Orange juice
• Kiwi
• Broccoli
• Strawberries


• Help keep your skin ready to fight off infections [1]
• Help fight the common cold
• Low zinc levels can lead to increased risk of infection [5]
Sources of zinc [7]:
• Oysters
• Fortified breakfast cereal
• Pork chops
• Baked beans
• Cashews

• Helps reduce free radicals as an antioxidant
Sources of selenium [8]:
• Brazil nuts
• Sardines
• Ham
• Turkey
• Chicken
• Egg

Immune booster spotlight
Some foods work overtime for our immune system. Here are 4 immune system superstars!

1. Green tea

Green tea has been shown to protect against tumors and may help prevent heart disease [9]. Green tea can also be an antioxidant.

2. Honey

Honey has many cancer-fighting benefits. It can help reduce inflammation [9]. It is also an antioxidant. Honey may help prevent cell death.

3. Curcumin

Curcumin is found in the bright orange spice, turmeric. Curcumin fights inflammation and has cancer-fighting benefits [9]. It is also an antioxidant.

4. Garlic

Garlic may also help our immunity. One research study found that people who ate aged garlic extract every day for 90 days had more immune cells and less cold and flu symptoms compared to people who did not eat the extract [10]. They also missed fewer days of work or school due to illness.
Bottom line: Eating a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and lean proteins will help boost your immune system. Taking extra supplements is not necessary unless you are deficient in a certain nutrient. Talk with your doctor before supplementing.

Written by Taylor Newman, PhD/DI student | Edited by Laurel Sanville, MS, RDN, LD

Original photo sources:
Sneezing | Carrots | Red pepper | Tea | Turmeric
[1]Albert, 2017
[2]Vitamin A sources
[3]B6 sources
[4]Folate sources
[5] Wintergerst et al. 2005
[6] Vitamin C sources
[7] Zinc sources
[8]Selenium sources
[9] Cooper & Ma, 2017
[10]Nantz et al., 2012
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