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by Sarah Koszyk RDN

April 2, 2020

Try eating these items to help you fight off illness

A strong immune system can help your body fight against infections and reduce the risk of getting sick. To improve your immune resistance (the ability to destroy pathogens) and increase immune tolerance (the ability to decrease infection), eat a well-balanced diet full of nutrient-rich vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.

In addition to eating the right foods, you should get adequate sleep, stay hydrated, exercise, and incorporate stress-relieving practices into your daily routine to support your immune health.

Note: These practices won’t prevent you from getting sick. They will just support an overall healthier immune system.

Vitamin C

Immune support: Vitamin C contributes to your immune defense by protecting your body against harmful pathogens that can make you sick. Vitamin C is also helpful in preventing respiratory infections by supporting your body’s cellular functions.

Food sources: Fruits such as oranges, strawberries, blueberries, grapefruits, cantaloupes, kiwis, and lemons. Vegetables such as broccoli, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, and potatoes.

Powerhouse pre-workout snack: Mixed berry smoothie containing blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and lemon juice.

Healthy recovery meal: Chicken stir-fry with broccoli, red and green bell peppers, and ginger over brown rice.

Vitamin E

Immune support: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that protects cells from damage caused by free radicals (unstable cells that damage cells) and enhances our immune function.

Food sources: Nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts. Seeds such as sunflower seeds. Oil and butters such as safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and peanut butter. Fruits such as kiwi and mango. Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, and tomatoes. Fish such as salmon, rainbow trout, and lobster. Foods such as avocados.

Powerhouse pre-workout snack: Almonds and kiwi. Peanut butter on toast.

Healthy recovery meal: Grilled salmon topped with an avocado, mango, and tomato salsa and steamed spinach and roasted potato on the side.

Vitamin A

Immune support: Vitamin A has many anti-inflammatory properties and plays a critical role in enhancing immune function by regulating cellular immune responses and formulating tissues to prevent pathogens from getting into the system.

Food sources: Vegetables such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spinach, carrots, pumpkin, kale, and red bell peppers. Fruits such as mangos and cantaloupe. Fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, and cod liver oil. Other proteins such as eggs, many cheeses, and beef liver.

Powerhouse pre-workout snack: Roasted sweet potato sprinkled with cheese. Hard-boiled egg and mango.

Healthy recovery meal: Ahi tuna with a butternut squash puree and a kale salad. 

Vitamin D

Immune support: Vitamin D modulates the innate (the body’s first line of defense) and adaptive (cells which fight against specific pathogens and is a delayed immune response) immune responses within the body. Many immune cells (such as B cells, T cells, and antigen-presenting cells) have vitamin D receptors to help promote protective immune support. Adequate vitamin D intake is needed to support the proper functioning of these immune cells.

Food sources: Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and cod liver oil. Vitamin D fortified foods such as milk, kefir, yogurt, and some cereals. Egg yolks and mushrooms.

Powerhouse pre-workout snack: Cereal with milk. Egg omelet with mushrooms and cheese.

Healthy recovery meal: Yogurt parfait with fruit and nuts. Mediterranean sardine pasta with lemon and capers.


Immune support: Probiotics regulate the functions of the systemic and mucosal immune cells and the intestinal epithelial cells contributing to increased gut health and immune support. When the intestines are in balance, they're strong and induce protective responses. Probiotics help keep the intestines strong and functioning.

Food sources: Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.

Powerhouse pre-workout snack: Smoothie containing yogurt and kefir, mixed berries, and chia seeds.

Healthy recovery meal: Marinated baked tempeh with vegetables and rice stir-fry and miso soup on the side.


Immune support: Omega-3s help activate cells from both the innate and the adaptive immune systems, optimizing our immune response.

Food sources: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and tuna. Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, ground flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and sacha inchi seeds. Vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach.

Powerhouse pre-workout snack: Walnuts and dates. Oatmeal with chia seeds and ground flax meal.

Healthy recovery meal: Walnut-crusted trout with rosemary and thyme with roasted Brussels sprouts and herbed couscous.


Immune support: Iron is fundamental for normal immune development by helping immune cells proliferate and mature.  

Food sources: Protein sources such as tofu, edamame, red meat, chicken, lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, tuna, and shrimp. Fortified foods such as oatmeal and bread. Vegetables such as green-leafy veggies, spinach, and artichokes. Fruit such as raisins and prunes. Foods such as quinoa.

Powerhouse pre-workout snack: Raisin bread with an egg. Oatmeal with raisins.

Healthy recovery meal: Lentil soup. Shrimp with a quinoa salad including spinach, artichokes, and other vegetables.


Immune support: Zinc helps fight infections and heal wounds. It is included in many lozenges to reduce the duration of common colds. Zinc may reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections in children.

Food sources: Protein sources such as beef, pork, chicken, oysters, beans/legumes, swiss and cheddar cheese, and yogurt. Nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds and cashews. Oatmeal and fortified cereals. Foods such as peas.

Powerhouse pre-workout snack: Oatmeal with pumpkin seeds and raisins.

Healthy recovery meal: Healthier beef stroganoff (using Greek yogurt) with peas and a salad.


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