Eating to Boost Your Immune System

Posted on October 4, 2023

Contributed by Shannon Mckay, RD, CDN

As fall is in full swing and we prepare for the cold winter months ahead, a common question that is often asked is: What can I do to boost my immune system?

The Harvard School of Public Health defines our immune systems as “a network of intricate stages and pathways in the body that protect us against harmful microbes, as well as certain disease.” The design of our immune system is complex and influenced by many factors; one major factor being our diet. A balanced diet consisting of a range of nutrients can effectively prepare the body to fight infection and disease. Some of the key nutrients that play a role in our immune health include: 

  • Vitamin A is essential to keep your skin and tissues healthy, which in turn can help protect you from infections. Vitamin A is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach. 
  • Vitamin C is essential for the growth and repair of tissues all over the body. Foods high in Vitamin C include oranges, bell peppers, strawberries. and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin D in its active form boosts immune cell production of microbe fighting proteins. Foods high in Vitamin D include milk, yogurt, and mushrooms .
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant that stops free radicals from damaging cell membranes and DNA. Foods high in vitamin E include sunflower seeds, avocado, spinach, and fortified cereals.  
  • Protein is important because amino acids (which are found in protein foods) form the building blocks of antibodies. Antibodies bind to germs and stop their attack on cells. There are two types of proteins: one is plant-based and the other is animal-based. Plant-based sources of protein include beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and soy products. Animal-based sources of protein include meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, and eggs.  
  • Zinc heals wounds and keeps the immune system functioning properly. Foods that are high in zinc include cooked oysters, beef, lamb, pork, wheat germ, legumes, and milk. 

When you combine a balanced diet with adequate sleep and exercise, you are setting your immune system to be at its best! 

About the Author

Shannon is a registered dietitian and certified dietitian/nutritionist with a passion for integrative nutrition. Shannon’s goal is to educate individuals on the importance of balancing healthy eating with activity, and her positive attitude is evident in her presentations. She is currently working towards becoming an Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner, where she will offer a nutritional approach to identifying and treating the root causes of chronic disease.