As we embark on cold and flu season, I start to get questions on how to strengthen the immune system.  The best thing you can do to support your immune system year-round is to follow a healthy, well balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and healthy fats.  Follow the healthy plate at meals to ensure you are getting a variety of nutrients every day. 

Make healthy meals with Canada’s food guide plate – Canada’s Food Guide

There is no one food or nutrient that can prevent illness, but there are nutrients that are linked with immune health.  Here are my top 5 foods to be sure to include in your eating plan.

1. Salmon

Salmon is a great way to get a good dose of vitamin D. You may be familiar with this vitamin to help build strong bones, but it also is known to support your immune system. Your body makes vitamin D when you skin is exposed to sunlight. In Canada, we get better sun exposure from April to September, helping us to produce more vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D through other foods such as:

  • Fatty fish, such as trout, mackerel, and sardines
  • Milk and fortified plant-based beverages
  • Some yogurt
  • Egg yolks
  • Margarine

Some people may need a supplement to meet their needs.  Health Canada recommends adults over age 50 take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU but remember to consult your doctor before adding supplements to your diet to ensure they are the right fit for you.

2. Beans

Beans are a great way to add zinc to your diet. Zinc is an essential mineral that contributes to the normal function of the immune system.  The good news is zinc is found is a variety of foods such as meat, chicken, fortified cereals, whole grains, beans, nuts, and dairy.

3. Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of selenium. Selenium is an essential trace mineral that acts as an antioxidant and supports many functions in the body.  It can help the immune system by protecting the body from oxidative stress. Selenium is found in a wide range of foods including everyday staples such as meat, seafood, eggs and bread. 

4. Avocado

Avocados contain vitamin E, which is a dietary antioxidant.  Vitamin E assists the body by protecting the fat in body tissues from oxidative stress.  Other foods that have vitamin E include nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and dark leafy greens.

5. Red Pepper

Red pepper is one of the best sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, heal wounds and acts as an antioxidant.

It is best to ensure you are incorporating vitamin C as a regular part of your eating plan.  The best place to get it – fruits and vegetables! From red peppers and oranges to strawberries and broccoli, be sure to include a variety and fill half your plate at each meal. Find the recommended Daily Value% through Health Canada.
Always combine a healthy diet with good personal hygiene to support your health.  Proper hand washing, getting enough sleep, being active and reducing stress all help to build a healthy immune system.