Eight immune-boosting nutrients to keep you healthy through flu season

Properly feeding your immune system can boost its power to fight off those pesky bugs that bring us down. Find out which foods to eat more of and others to avoid
By Marni Wasserman
Eight immune-boosting nutrients to keep you healthy through flu season Getty

Cold and flu season is upon us and you may feel as though you are surrounded by people sniffling, coughing or feeling sick. Now is the time to start protecting yourself! Properly feeding your immune system can boost its power to fight off those pesky bugs that bring us down.

Here are some top immune-boosting nutrients to include in your diet:

1. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects against infection and enhances immunity.  Vitamin C works by increasing the production of white blood cells, which fight off infection. It also works by increasing the production of antibodies and in particular, raises levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Vitamin C sources include citrus fruits, potatoes, green peppers, strawberries and pineapple.

2. Vitamin E: Vitamin E is important to a healthy immune system. One function of vitamin E is that it enhances the production of B-cells, the immune cells that produce antibodies that destroy bacteria. In fact, research shows that people who eat vitamin E-rich foods tend to have a higher immunity.  Vitamin E rich foods are seeds, vegetable oils and grains such as sprouted grains and lentils.

3. Beta-carotene: Beta-carotene enhances the functioning of your immune system.  Beta-carotene works by increasing the number of infection fighting cells, natural killer cells and helper T cells.  Foods rich in beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro and fresh thyme. To enhance the availability of the beta-carotene in these foods, they should be eaten raw or lightly steamed. Getting the recommended 5-10 a day of fruits and vegetables will provide you with approximately 3-6 milligrams of beta-carotene.

4. Zinc: Zinc helps to prevent a weakened immune system. Studies have shown that a zinc deficiency can impair a number of white blood cells and platelets (blood cells involved in clotting), and can increase susceptibility to infection. Excessive zinc intake, however, may impair immunity and increase infections. Get an adequate amount of zinc in your diet by eating zinc-rich foods such as almonds, lima beans, lentils, pumpkin and sesame seeds, garbanzo beans and yogurt.

5. Garlic: Garlic is known for its cold-fighting abilities. It increases the potency of two important cells of the immune system: T-lymphocytes and macrophages. The immune-boosting properties of garlic appear to be due to its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin and sulfides. You can eat it raw or cooked—so start adding it to your favourite foods today!

6. Omega-3 fats: The all-important omega-3 fats are essential immune boosters, as they work by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. These fats also help strengthen cell membranes, thereby speeding up healing and strengthening resistance to infection in the body. Omega-3s are found in foods such as flax oil and flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds, omega-3 eggs, wild fish, and other nuts and seeds. To boost omega-3 in your diet, try adding ground flaxseed to yogurt, baked goods, cereals or smoothies or use unrefined, cold-pressed flax seed oil as a salad dressing. 

Other amazing immune-boosting foods

Broccoli: This vegetable is a great immune-booster and is easy to add to any meal. It’s full of nutrients that protect your body from damage such as vitamin A, vitamin C and glutathione.

Yogurt: In addition to fruits, vegetables and grains, a daily cup of organic yogurt with live and active cultures may stimulate your immune system to fight diseases. Also, in recent studies, the vitamin D in yogurt and in sunlight has been linked to decreasing the risk of cold and flu. If you don’t eat dairy, many health foods stores carry goat and sheep’s yogurt, which have less lactose, or you can get soy yogurt (must be organic) or you can make your own coconut-based yogurt at home.


Some foods and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours can make a person more susceptible to colds and flus. Avoid high-fat, high-sugar junk foods, as they can decrease the activity of the immune system. It’s also best to avoid too much caffeine (pop, coffee, tea, chocolate) as caffeine can undermine your body’s immune system and act as a diuretic, which will deplete your body of water. Also, don’t smoke! Smoking can impair your resistance as well as injure the respiratory tract, which makes you more susceptible to the flu.

Have a cold-free and healthy winter season! And try this wonderful immune-strengthening soup.

Carrot Squash Apple Soup
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cups vegetable stock or filtered water
2 cups carrots chopped
2 cups sweet potatoes or yams or butternut squash, peeled and diced
2-3 medium apples, cored and diced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp fresh ginger root

For added nutrition and a balanced meal, serve with some brown rice and steamed green vegetables such as Swiss chard, kale, or broccoli.

1. In a large soup pot, sauté the onions in oil on medium heat until they become translucent.
2. Add the stock, carrots, potatoes, apples and salt, pepper, nutmeg and ginger. Bring to a boil.
3. Turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Take 2 ladles of vegetables and 1 ladle of stock and blend in a blender or food processor until smooth or you can puree the entire pot. Return to soup pot and stir together before serving.


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