‘Tis the season for cold and flu viruses to spread like wildfire. This leaves many people turning to Doctor Google out of desperation to try and boost their immune systems. While it’s understandable that we all want quick preventative fixes, there’s no proven way to “boost” your immune system. However, as far as nutrition is concerned, there are some nutrients you can be sure to include in your routine for immune system support.Jump to Recipe
While you’ve probably seen people resort to taking products like Emergen-C to fend off a cold, there’s little evidence supporting the immune boosting claims. An article from Harvard Medical School explains that part of the reason boosting the immune system isn’t so simple is because it’s a “system — not a single entity” (1). However, one of the ways we can support our immune system is through anti-inflammatory foods (2,3).
One of the first nutrients people often think of when they hear the words “anti-inflammatory” is likely omega-3 fats. However, did you know these fats may also be beneficial to your immune function? Considering inflammation is involved with illnesses and diseases, it makes more sense why omega-3 fats may be something to consider. Some ways you can incorporate omega-3 fats into your diet include: chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseed, and fatty fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel).
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is probably the most well-known of the nutrients to support our immune system. There are a number of ways in which vitamin c aids in immune function, including: supports phagocytosis, reduces tissue damage at inflammation sites, and defends cells agains lipid peroxidation (4). Foods and herbs that are high in vitamin C include: yellow peppers, thyme, kale, kiwi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lemons, strawberries, oranges, etc.
The reason that vitamin E may be beneficial to preventing illness or inflammation is due to its ability to scavenge free radicals and prevent lipid oxidation (2). Food sources include seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and vegetable oils.
Zinc is another nutrient that is suggested to be important for our body’s immune system function. It helps with cell division and growth (5). Foods rich in zinc include meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy eggs, and whole grains.
Probiotics & Prebiotics
While we often think of probiotics and prebiotics in supporting gut health, you maybe didn’t know that your gut health plays a role in your immune function and inflammatory processes. You might remember that I wrote a blog post earlier this year about prebiotics and probiotics. Some of the sources of probiotics include: kefir, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchee, etc. As far as prebiotic sources, some include: onions, garlic, bananas, asparagus, soybeans, etc.
Immune Supporting Smoothie
- blender (preferably a high speed blender like a Ninja, Blendtec, or Vitamix)
- 2 cups strawberries (frozen is fine)
- 1 kiwi, peeled
- 1 banana, frozen (freeze with peel off)
- 1 cup spinach, fresh
- 1/2 cup plain kefir
- 1/2 cup milk of choice
- 1/2 tsp honey
- 1/2 tbsp hemp seeds
- 1/2 tbsp chia seeds
- Place all of your ingredients in a blender.
- Blend until smooth. (Add more milk if too thick to blend)
Of the foods I listed, which ones do you think you may incorporate into your routine to prepare for cold and flu season? Share in the comments below!
- How to boost your immune system. (2014). Harvard Health Publishing.
- Franz, M. Nutrition, inflammation, and disease. (2014). Today’s Dietitian, 16(2), 44.
- Getz, L. Winter nutrition — healthy eating offers good protection during the chilly season. (2009). Today’s Dietitian, 11(1), 48.
- Calder, P. C., Albers, R., Antoine, J-M, et al. Inflammatory disease processes and interactions with nutrition. (2009). British Journal of Nutrition, 101(1), S1-S45.
- Spano, Marie. (2013). Zinc and Inflammation — Age-related zinc deficiency may contribute to chronic disease risk (2013). Today’s Dietitian, 15(1), 52.