Immune-boosting nutrients are important year-round, but during the winter months, when colds and flu are more prevalent, they become especially crucial. While no single food or diet can guarantee immunity, maintaining a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet can support overall immune function. Below are some immune-boosting nutrients that may help get you through the winter free from cold or flu.
10 Immune-Boosting Nutrients
(1) Vitamin C-rich foods
While the importance Vitamin C has on the immune system may not be new information for many, current research continuous to dig deeper into the bodily processes this vitamin is associated with, illuminating the value of Vitamin C, as a vitamin and antioxidant, has on your immune system and overall health.
Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits), strawberries, kiwi, and bell peppers are all excellent sources of vitamin C, known for their immune-boosting properties.
(2) Vitamin D
In attempt to bring together various research findings to illustrate the processes the body goes through utilizing Vitamin D to help support the immune system, one study shows that multiple metabolic systems – intracrine, paracrine, and endocrine – play a role in influencing the interaction between vitamin D and the immune system.
Exposure to sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D, but during winter, it might be challenging to get enough sunlight. Some examples of vitamin D-rich foods such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), fortified dairy products, and eggs might be alternate sources in the absence sunlight.
Zinc is associated with just about all bodily functions, but arguably none more important than the immune system. Because zinc plays the role as gatekeeper of immune function, deficiency in this trace element, which is not uncommon, can lead to various health implications. Consuming foods high in zinc, such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and lean meats, can help support immune function.
Garlic contains allicin, which has antimicrobial properties and may help support the immune system. See the early and promising research showing its immune and other health benefits. Adding fresh garlic to your meals for flavor could help you reap the health benefits of this nutrient as well.
Probiotics, found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which is closely linked to immune function. Additionally, there are some studies to support probiotics having potential for several therapeutic immune response-related diseases (e.g., allergies, eczema, viral infections, etc.).
(6) Colorful fruits and vegetables
A variety of fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients play a crucial role in supporting overall health and immunity. In fact, those following the Nutrition Garden Model, or the consumption of a variety of colorful produce, reduced incidences of stomach issues, cold and cough, fatigue, delayed wound healing and infections.
Staying well-hydrated is important for overall health. Water helps the immune system function properly by supporting the transport of nutrients throughout the body, regulating temperature, lubricating joints, and ridding the body of waste and toxins. However, many studies do show that some drinking water consists of major contaminants and drinking water is one of the main routes of exposure to these pollutants. This means clean water (e.g., purified, spring, mineral) should be the focus most often to obtain the benefits of immune system health.
(8) Herbal teas
Warm herbal teas, such as ginger, chamomile, or echinacea, may provide comfort and hydration while offering potential immune-boosting properties. Historically, herbs have been well-known for their healing power. Although the scientific study of herbal teas is in its infancy, what has been found is because of the high content of bioactive ingredients, herbal teas stimulate immune function and promote a vast number of other health benefits.
(9) Whole grains
Because research shows whole grains lead to a healthy gut and a healthy gut lead to improvements in immune health, it’s important to incorporate whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats into your diet. Whole grains are a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
(10) Limit processed foods and added sugars
A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can negatively impact immune function. Studies have indicated this, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, as those who consumed diets high in processed foods were more likely to be infected with the virus. In short, focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods instead.
Remember that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management, also contributes to a robust immune system. If you have specific health concerns or dietary restrictions, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized advice. A nutrition coach can also be a great resource to help get your nutritional habits on track, helping you with meal planning and/or macro counting.