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Ask the Expert: Which Foods Support Immunity?

Learn how to use foods to support your immunity and fight infection.

Young woman blowing nose
Feb 6 2018

In this series, our experts answer nutrition questions to help you nourish your best life at every age.*

Question: This time of year, it seems that everyone around me is sick! What can I do to keep healthy? Will loading up on vitamin C tablets help?

Answer: You are on the right track — your vitamin and mineral levels play an important role in keeping the immune system strong so that it can fight off foreign invaders, including cold and flu viruses!

However, when it comes to nutrition, it's always best to take a "food first" approach. Whole foods not only contain the vitamins and minerals that we need, they contain those nutrients in natural, highly bioavailable forms — meaning they can be used more easily by the body.

Whole foods also contain them in the right amounts. After all, with vitamins (including vitamin C), more is not always better. Each day, your body can only take in and use certain amounts of vitamins and minerals. Take in more than you need with "mega-dose" tablets advertised to increase immunity, and you can end up passing a lot of it out through your urine! What's more, excess levels of other vitamins, called "fat-soluble" vitamins, aren't excreted in your urine and can build up in the body. So, over time, taking extra-high doses could become problematic. That's certainly not what you're going for!

Immunity Supporting Foods

OK, so if you're turning to whole foods, which ones do you need? Well, the most important vitamins and minerals for boosting your immunity — and keeping that pesky cold at bay — include vitamins A, C and E, as well as zinc.

  • Vitamins A and C are both found in high amounts in fruits and vegetables. Red bell peppers, for instance, give you a two-in-one punch of both A and C. Sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach are also rich in A, while citrus fruits and tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C.

  • For vitamin E, turn to nuts and seeds. Sunflower seeds and oil, almonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter are all great sources. Just remember, with these, a little bit goes a long way! Nuts and seeds are also rich in zinc, along with oysters, poultry, seafood, milk and beans.

  • A healthy gut is also important in helping fight off infections. Choose prebiotic and probiotic foods that support a healthy gut flora – such as fruits, vegetables, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi – just to name a few.


So this cold and flu season, follow a balanced diet — filling each plate with produce, lean meats, dairy and healthy fats — and you will get what you need to keep your immune system strong and healthy. Nature provides!

Abby Sauer, MPH, RD

The expert: Abby Sauer, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian specializing in adult nutrition and wellness at Abbott.

 

 


*Note: This column is for general educational and informational purposes only. The information and the opinions of the author expressed do not constitute medical advice. Speak to a medical professional if you need personal health advice. 

 

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