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5 Nutrition Pillars of Immune Health

Food is a critical component of immune system health. Learn which foods contain immune system supporting nutrients in this article from a certified nutritionist.

by Mia Rigden Board-certified nutritionist, classically trained chef

It’s cold outside and you’re more prone to feeling run down. We can maximize our resilience during these winter months, and beyond, by focusing on our nutrition. Here are five pillars of nutrition that will benefit your immune system and just about every other aspect of your health in the chilly months and year-round.

Eat an abundance and variety of fruits and vegetables.

The produce section is filled with important sources of immune-supporting antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E; minerals like selenium and zinc; and phytonutrients including beta-carotene, quercetin, and resveratrol. Aim to eat 5–7 servings of plants per day and 20 different varieties a week. This can include fruit, vegetables, herbs, garlic, onion, and different types of lettuces and leafy greens.

Make sure you’re getting enough protein.

Upon consumption, protein breaks down into amino acids, which are building blocks for the body and critical for immune function. Required for tissue repair and wound healing, they aid in the production of antibodies, immune cells like T cells and B cells, enzymes, and compounds required for immune function (including glutathione!). Not sure how much protein to eat? Individual needs vary based on weight and activity levels, but most of us need about 1-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Space your protein intake out throughout the day by having a serving with every meal.

Focus on gut health.

70% of your immune system comes from the gut. Let that sink in. A diet rich in diverse plant foods that are high in fiber, along with daily consumption of fermented foods — like sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt — help to populate a healthy microbiome that will keep your immune system strong. Herbs and spices, which have high phytochemical content, are also great for your gut.

Avoid excess alcohol, sugar, and processed foods.

These foods and substances affect our nutrient status and gut health while disrupting our ability to focus on health-promoting lifestyle factors like sleep and exercise. Alcohol has long- and short-term consequences to your immune system; even a single night of drinking can temporarily impair your immune system and chronic alcohol use can have more lasting effects. The same goes with sugar and processed food intake, which increases inflammation and impairs immune function. While less is better, you don’t need to adopt a zero-tolerance approach. Try to limit your alcohol consumption to 3–5 drinks a week or less, and limit your sugar and processed food intake to special occasions.

Take immune-supporting supplements.

Sometimes our immune system needs extra support, especially during the winter months. High-absorption supplements like Lypo-Spheric® Vitamin C and Glutathione can help your cells achieve optimal immune supporting nutrients when they need them most.

In addition to proper nutrition, lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, hygiene, and exercise affect your immune system. Prioritize your sleep, practice stress management techniques, wash your hands frequently, and make an effort to move daily. Your body will thank you!

Mia Rigden is a Los Angeles-based board certified nutritionist, trained chef, and the author of The Well Journal (2020) and Foodwise (2023), a comprehensive, encouraging guide to healthy eating with 100 original, nutritionally-balanced and flavor-enriching recipes. Learn more about working with Mia on her website, check out an online course, and follow on Instagram @mia_rigden for science-backed, practical nutrition advice.