Eating To Boost Your Immune System

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Shorter Version

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Your co-worker was coughing throughout the office. The person next to you on your flight brought their own box of tissues; now you’re starting to get the sniffles. Whether it’s cold and flu season or your body is just worn down from stress, sometimes our immune system just needs a little extra attention to keep us feeling our best. The best medicine for a healthy immune system is simple and natural – a balanced, whole-foods diet. Beat the stress by eating foods high in these immunity-boosting nutrients!

The key nutrients to boost your immune system

Vitamin C

Probably the most well-known nutrient to boost your immune system, vitamin C protects our cells against everyday stress. Find this vitamin in a variety of fruits like the citrus family (oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes, and grapefruit), strawberries, kiwi, and papaya. Veggies like bell peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes are also packed with vitamin C. Additionally, if you are a traveler, remember that traveling requires a little extra oomph to boost immunity. When traveling by plane, order a vitamin C-packed tomato juice from the flight attendant.

Vitamin A

Although better known for supporting healthy vision, vitamin A also strengthens our tissues to fight against infection. Most foods have a compound called carotenoid that the body turns into vitamin A. For example, think orange foods like carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, and apricots. Spinach, kale, bell peppers, fortified milk, and eggs also are great sources that boost your immune system with Vitamin A. 

Vitamin E

This is the true antioxidant hero in supporting the immune system. Because it’s a fat-soluble vitamin (it’s best absorbed when eaten with a fat source), you can find it in foods like nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado, vegetable oils, and some whole grains. Just one serving of sunflower seeds has about 66% of the Daily Value of vitamin E.

Dietitian’s Tip: Keep homemade trail mix on hand throughout the year. Mix up your favorite nuts, seeds, and unsweetened dried fruit for an energy and immune-boosting snack on-the-go.


Ever wonder why throat lozenges are made with extra zinc? This mineral keeps the immune system fighting strong and is the first-aid kit to healing any wounds. Find zinc hiding out in most animal sources like red meat, poultry, milk, and seafood (especially shellfish). It can also be found in plant sources like beans, legumes (chickpeas, lentils), whole grains, nuts, and seeds.


Ready to power through the cold season with adequate protein? This macronutrient is required for every single reaction that occurs in your body which makes it the M.V.P. in defense. Choose a variety of lean protein sources throughout the week like meat, poultry, seafood, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and soy-based products.


Okay, it’s not technically food. Regardless, water is needed throughout our entire body for everyday bodily processes. Most importantly, water is the transportation system for all the wonderful nutrients we eat, making sure to deliver them to the cells that need them most.

Dietitian’s Tip: Try infusing water with fruits, lemon, or lime for extra vitamin C and flavor. Sipping on warm broths and hot tea are soothing and hydrating for a sore throat, too.

Supporting a healthy immune system is more than just eating the right foods. It’s important to also balance rest, exercise, sleep, and stress to keep our immune system at its best.

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Actionable Steps


Be prepared

Stock your kitchen with these immune-boosting foods on a regular basis so your immune system is always getting the right fuel. Check out our meal planning tips so you have meals and snacks on hand when you’re sick.


Eat an overall well balanced diet

Choose a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein sources to get all your vitamins and minerals.


Take care of yourself

When your immune system is weak, focus on rest and self-care so your body can properly recover.


See your physician or dietitian

Always consult with your health professional before changing your normal eating routine.


Read the longer version

To learn more, read these articles reviewed by our professionals: Protect Your Health With Immune-Boosting Nutrition by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and 8 Vitamins & Minerals You Need for a Healthy Immune System by the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about how other nutrients, herbs, spices, and probiotics can boost immunity from Eat Right Virginia.

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Hi, I’m Shannon! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Culinary Coach, and Personal Trainer. After dedicating over 8 years to the corporate wellness world, I began my own nutrition practice. Chef Shannon Nutrition focuses on plant-based nutrition and culinary coaching. My passion for culinary nutrition grew when I worked as a cooking instructor for a culinary entertainment company. After several years as an instructor and event coordinator, I moved into the role of Director of Culinary Entertainment where I developed all the recipes, menus, and instructor trainings. My dietetic’s expertise helped the company expand into allergy-friendly and health conscious menus to suit all clients.
Full Bio | LinkedIn | 1:1 Coaching

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