Key Nutrients to Strengthen Your Immune System

By Lyne Desforges, Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Culinary Nutrition Expert

Cold and flu season is here. But don’t let that cramp your style and limit you from doing what you love! Now is the time to strengthen your immune system so you can do your favourite activities all year long. Food plays an integral role when it comes to your overall health. Eating whole unprocessed foods, limiting your sugar and alcohol intake will go a long way towards strengthening your immune system and improving your overall physical, mental, and emotional health. This study showed that when participants consumed 100g of either honey, fructose, glucose, or sucrose (table sugar), the activity of their immune cells decreased for 5 hours. Now that is something to consider before reaching for that big glass of orange juice in the morning. So stay away from the sweets and embrace foods rich in complex carbs, healthy fats, and proteins. And for that little extra, consider incorporating these five key nutrients for a strong immune system.

5 Key Nutrients to Strengthen Your Immune System

Fermented Foods

Over 70% of our immune system resides in our gut. Fermented foods contain probiotics (beneficial bacteria) that support a healthy microbiome. According to this study, “probiotic organisms are claimed to offer several functional properties including stimulation of immune system.”  To strengthen your immune system, consider adding some of the probiotic-rich foods to your daily meals: yogurt, natural pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha or miso.

Vitamin C Foods

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and water-soluble nutrient that has long been touted as the ‘go to’ nutrient to combat or even prevent the onset of colds and flus. Humans are one of only a handful of mammals who cannot make or store vitamin C. Therefore it is crucial to add lots of vitamin C foods on a daily basis to maintain a strong immune system.  Our favourites are bell peppers, tomatoes, squashes, citrus fruits and berries.

Vitamin D Foods

As sunlight diminishes during the fall & winter months, it is important to get your daily dose of vitamin D through other sources, like food. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between a deficiency in vitamin D and a weaker immune system. Foods high in this nutrient include eggs, wild-caught salmon, mackerel, sardines and mushrooms. However, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, it is often recommended to supplement with vitamin D from September to May in order to get enough of that crucial nutrient. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking any supplements.

Foods high in Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral with great anti-oxidative properties which helps to keep your immune system robust and healthy. Like vitamin D, many studies have observed a direct correlation between a zinc deficiency and a weaker immune system. Consuming foods high in this mineral such as organic meats, nuts & seeds, shellfish and dark chocolate will strengthen your immune system. As an added bonus, dark chocolate also contains theobromine that may help to inhibit coughs.

Herbs and Spices

Adding herbs and spices to your food not only enhances the flavour of your meal, but it adds amazing health benefits. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, echinacea, garlic and ginseng are herbs and spices with high antioxidant values and have been used for centuries to promote a healthy body. Incorporating these herbs and spices into your daily diet can have a positive immune boosting effect.

A Balanced Lifestyle

Maintaining a clean healthy diet full of whole foods will certainly take you on the right path to great health and a strong immune system. But it doesn’t stop there. It is important to also manage your stress, get at least 7 hours of good sleep, and exercise regularly.

Enjoy the “cold and flu season” without the sniffles and coughs. Stay strong in both body and mind. Embrace life and be grateful for the beauty that surrounds you.