How Food Can Help You Boost Your Immune System

Throughout flu season, it is common to think about which foods or supplements can help boost immunity. Although there are many good examples of things we can eat to help boost our immune system, it is important to note that every individual's immune system is complex and depends on many other factors (not just diet). Nonetheless, a healthy diet, combined with an active lifestyle and a good sleeping routine can have a positive impact on immunity.

To discuss which foods can help boost your immune system, let's first break down how our immunity works. Every day, our body gets exposed to microbes of all sorts - some good, some bad. These invaders can come in many forms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Our skin, mucus, digestive tract (microbiome), sweat, and tears are all forms of barriers that fight against pathogens that try to enter our body. Our cells and organs work hard to provide us with enough of those barriers to fight unknown harmful pathogens. So, it only makes sense that feeding our body with the right resources would help strengthen our immunity.

There is no such thing as the perfect immune-boosting diet, but eating a variety of foods will help you gain all the required nutrients to boost your immunity. Here are a few examples of nutrients that can provide functions to our immune cells and organs: vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein. It is recommended to combine vitamin C rich foods (fruits and veggies) with zinc (found in meat, shellfish, dairy, legumes, nuts) to improve its absorption in the body. All of these nutrients can be found in various plant and animal-based foods. Going for whole foods and minimally processed foods can increase your chances of getting all the required nutrients in your diet.

Recent research shows that the microbiome (our gut) plays a crucial role in our body's immunity. It has been proven that a fiber-rich and plant-rich diet (including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) aids in maintaining a healthy gut. Therefore, providing better protection against antibodies or pathogens. Probiotics and prebiotics play another big role in keeping the gut healthy by fueling the good bacteria found in our microbiome. Kefir, yogurt (with active cultures), fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kombucha tea, kimchi, and miso are all examples of probiotics. Garlic, onions, asparagus, artichokes, leafy green, bananas, and seaweed are all good examples of prebiotics. It is recommended to consume these products regularly to help in digestion and keep the gut well and healthy.

Vitamin supplements are only necessary if there a deficiency exists with certain nutrients. Studies have shown that deficiencies in zinc, folic acid, selenium, iron and vitamin A, B6, C, and E can impact immune responses. It is recommended to supplement if any deficiencies exist to boost immunity. Vitamin D (the sun vitamin!) often becomes deficient and is a recommended supplement throughout winter time, and especially during daylight savings when we see less of the sun throughout the day.

It is possible that maintaining a diverse diet would provide all the required nutrients, however, it is not uncommon for dietitians to recommend a multivitamin to those who may not be able to afford a varied diet or to those who may not be able to absorb these nutrients through food consumption.

Overall, it is safe to say that there is no right or wrong diet to prevent getting sick. The best recommendation is to eat a variety of whole foods. Looking at a "healthy plate" (see image below) can help you consume a good variety of foods and to obtain all the nutrients your body requires.

Performing regular exercise, keeping good hygiene (washing hands regularly), alcohol in moderation and 7-8hrs of sleep per night are all great ways to help boost your immune system as well.

Interested in learning more? Consult our nutritionist, Kelissa Ouellet, at The Gym Melbourne to learn about her services.

Written by:

Kelissa Ouellet


Melbourne, AUS

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