Nutrition for Immune Health

Guest writer: Tanya Cullen RD, CDE

Reviewed by: Andrea Miller, MHSc, RD, FDC

Has it very happened to you that you get over one cold when another starts? Do you ask yourself if there is something you can do to either reduce how long you are sick or how often you are getting sick? There are some helpful strategies that I want to share with you.


On a daily basis, our immune system is working hard to detect the presence of foreign invaders in our body. These invaders can be harmful bacteria or viruses which can make us sick. In our immune system, we have special cells, tissues, organs which work together to defend against, and destroy these invaders, to help our body fight infections, colds and the flu. A strong immune system can help us recover faster when we do get sick.  Our daily lifestyle and food choices can have an impact on our immune system. For example, a diet where our intake of specific nutrients is not being met can compromise our immune system and make use more susceptible to infections, colds and the flu.

A healthy eating pattern based on Canada’s Food guide consists of well-balanced meals which include a variety of foods especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein-rich foods. In addition, it is important to choose healthy fats and to limit ultra-processed foods. These foods are beneficial, as they contain nutrients which have roles in supporting the function and the health of our immune system. Examples of these nutrients include vitamin A, C, E, D, zinc, selenium. Other foods which may help enhance our immune system include omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics. Here are some examples of foods containing each of these nutrients:

Vitamin A sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, kale, bok choy, collards, apricot
Vitamin C all varieties of peppers, kiwi, oranges, broccoli, kale, tomato, strawberries
Vitamin E almonds, sunflower seeds, almond butter, hazelnuts, avocado, peanuts
Vitamin D salmon, sardines, cow’s milk, herring, enriched plant based beverages
Zinc oysters, beef, veal, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds
Selenium brazil nuts, canned light tuna, oysters, sunflower seed butter, salmon
Omega 3 fatty acids flaxseeds, chia seeds, salmon, mackerel, walnuts, herring, salmon
Probiotics kefir, kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha

Now you might be wondering how to incorporate these nutrients/foods into your meals. Let’s have a look at a classic breakfast choice – oatmeal. Oatmeal is a great source of fibre. It can help with blood sugar control and help you feel full and energized for the morning. For those of you may be pressed for time in the morning, overnight oats are a quick, convenient, and healthy option that can be made the night before.

When I make overnight oats, I start with my oats, liquid (milk or water) and chia seeds. I place all the ingredients in a sealed jar and leave it in the fridge. I usually use a 2:1 ratio for liquid to oats. You can experiment with the ratio to see what you prefer. For example, I mix 1/2 cup of oats with 1 cup of liquid and 1 tbsp of chia seeds.  For the oats, I like using old-fashioned oats. There are many options for the liquid, you can choose cow’s milk, plant-based beverages, or kefir.  Kefir can help increase the probiotic content and help your immune system.

Overnight Oats Ingredients
1/2 cup of oats
1 cup of liquid
1 tbsp of chia seeds (optional)

In the morning, you can add various toppings to your oatmeal to give flavour, texture and boost those nutrients that help your immune system. For example, you can add almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, nut butters, strawberries, apricots, etc. The potential for new flavour combinations is endless.

Food choices play a big role in supporting the function of our immune system; however, there are lifestyle choices that can also make a difference. It is important to try to reduce stress, ensure we are getting sufficient hours of sleep and to be physically active. Stay safe and take good care.

2 Comments

  1. Nice article! Thanks for posting this information. Nutrition is a critical determinant of immune system responses and malnutrition the most common cause of immunodeficiency.

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