Can Certain Foods Boost My Immunity? Here’s What a Dietitian Says
Martina Luketich, MHSc, RD
Martina Luketich is a Registered Dietitian who works for Loblaw Companies Ltd.
Can your diet or lifestyle improve your immune system? In the height of a pandemic, it’s common for people to be curious if what they eat can boost their immunity. Keep reading for a Registered Dietitian’s take on all things nutrition and immune health.
First, let’s define the word “boost.” When it comes to immune health, the best term to use would be “support”. You can help support your immune system with good nutrition and lifestyle habits like minimizing stress levels, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.1 But, no single food or supplement is going to prevent or fight off those unwanted viruses or infections.1
With that out of the way, let’s get into the most frequently asked immune health questions that I get asked as a Registered Dietitian.
Can I get enough nutrients to support my immune system from just diet?
Yes, you can. When it comes to eating well for immune health, focus on having a variety of foods. Research has shown that a diverse and balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein foods, and whole grains is important for a strong immune system.1
Some research suggests that Vitamin C, Zinc, and Selenium may support immune health. 2 For most people, though, there’s no strong evidence saying that having more than what you’d get from a balanced diet will help support immune health. After all, having more than the recommended intake of these vitamins and minerals may come with some side effects.2
Looking to add more food sources of Vitamin C, Selenium, and Zinc to your diet? Try these foods! 2
• Vitamin C: Strawberries, oranges, broccoli, or red bell pepper
• Zinc: Lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, or plant-based proteins like beans and lentils
• Selenium: Whole grains including bread, pasta, and brown rice, oats, seafood, or Brazil nuts
Are there other vitamins or supplements that can help support your immune system?
It appears that individuals with higher Vitamin D levels have a lower risk of upper respiratory infections.3 Although more research needs to be done in this area, this isn’t the first time I’ve recommended a Vitamin D supplement, especially during our Canadian winters. Vitamin D isn’t found in many foods, so it’s likely that we won’t get enough Vitamin D through diet alone.4 However, Vitamin D can be found in cow’s milk, fortified soy milk, salmon, sardines, and egg yolks.4
Is it okay to drink milk when suffering from a cold?
Although milk and other dairy products are part of a balanced diet, there’s been some concern that milk produces mucus. Research shows that there is no increase in mucus production when drinking milk. Drinking milk sometimes leads to sensations of “coating the throat” or “thicker saliva,” but this feeling is likely from the velvety texture of milk rather than an increased production of mucus.5,6
What are some foods to avoid for immune support?
Eating to support your immune system is all about eating a variety of foods, so all foods fit! It may be in your best interest to be mindful of your caffeine or alcohol intake as these beverages can be dehydrating. We also may want to consider avoiding caffeine and alcohol as we approach our bedtime to ensure we get a restful sleep.
To support your immune system, a well-balanced diet with lots of variety is key. Stay hydrated. Move your body and have fun doing it. Keep wellness a top priority to decrease your stress levels. Last but not least, be critical of products or supplements that provide “immune boosting” benefits. A quick fix may sound appealing, but they may not live up to their promise.
If you would like support from a Registered Dietitian to help create an optimal diet that is just right for you, Dietitian services are available through Shoppers Drug Mart. Visit www.shoppersdrugmart.ca/dietitians and schedule a free 15-minute call to learn more.
The information provided is for personal use, reference and education only and is not intended to be a substitute for a Physician’s advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific information on personal health matters. Please note: Dietitian services are currently only available in Ontario. Please contact your store to learn more. ®/TM 911979 Alberta Ltd. ©2020 Shoppers Drug Mart Inc.
1. Dietitians of Canada (2020). Advice for the general public about COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.dietitians.ca/News/2020/Advice-for-the-general-public-about-COVID-19
2. Unlock Food (2020). Get The Facts On The Immune System. Retrieved from https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Immune-System/Get-The-Facts-On-The-Immune-System.aspx#citamin
3. Martineau, A, Jolliffe, D. et al. (2017). Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583
4. Unlock Food (2018). What you need to know about Vitamin D. Retrieved from https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/ViewPDF.aspx?docid=8769&respgid=2189&lang=en&datemod=2018-10-04%2010:15:42%20AM
5. Zaitlin, P. et al. (2013). Mistaken beliefs and the facts about milk and dairy foods. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/nutritiontodayonline/Abstract/2013/05000/Mistaken_Beliefs_and_the_Facts_About_Milk_and.8.aspx
6. Pinnock, C. B., Graham, N. M. et al. (1990). Relationship between milk intake and mucus production in adult volunteers challenged with rhinovirus-2. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2154152/