How to add 5 of the most important nutrients for your immune system to your diet

  • 2 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

Your immune system constantly works to protect you but needs the right nutrients. Are you supporting it well enough?

Nutrients for immune system

How to boost your immune system with nutrients

It's easy to take your immune system for granted until a cold or flu takes over. While many factors, such as sleep and stress management, play a role, a healthy diet pattern is essential to help your immune system work at its best. Let’s look at key nutrients needed for immune function and how to get enough.

5 vital nutrients for your immune system to work its best

Vitamin A

Munching on carrots may benefit more than your eye health. Vitamin A helps reduce inflammation and supports immune function by helping your skin and the lining of your intestinal tract and lungs function as barriers.

Animal sources of vitamin A include fortified milk and eggs. Exceptionally high in vitamin A, liver may not be your favorite source for it, but don't despair. Plant sources of vitamin A from beta-carotene include orange-colored fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and dark, green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.

Vitamin C

Do you drink a glass of OJ for vitamin C as soon as the sniffles signal the start of a cold? Vitamin C is essential for immune function and may help reduce common cold duration. However, no evidence indicates taking large doses will prevent catching a cold or other infection.

You can find vitamin C in most fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruit, strawberries, and bell peppers.

Vitamin C supplements are generally safe, though doses over the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) of 2000 mg per day can cause diarrhea and nausea.


Protein plays a vital role in immune function and healing, though piling on extra helpings of steak won’t do you any good if you have already satisfied your protein needs. If you are on a calorie-reduced diet for weight loss, prioritize getting enough protein for immune function and maintaining muscle mass.

Protein comes from a range of plant and animal foods, including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” supports numerous body processes, including immune function. It can be challenging to get enough vitamin D from food sources, let alone sunshine. Many people require supplements, especially during dark winter months.

Food sources of vitamin D include liver, oily fish like salmon, eggs, and fortified dairy products and dairy substitutes.

Do not take doses over the UL of 4000 IU (100 mcg) daily unless under your doctor's advice.


Zinc is a mineral that helps your immune system fight off invaders. Zinc is vital for seniors and undernourished children who may be at higher risk of infection.

While zinc lozenges may slightly reduce the duration of the common cold, there is no evidence it will prevent colds or other infections in otherwise healthy people.

Avoid nasal zinc sprays–they can cause a permanent loss of smell. More is not better. Very high doses of zinc may reduce immune response.

Zinc is found in oysters, meat, poultry, sesame seeds, peanuts, dried beans/peas, whole grains, and fortified cereals.

Other nutrients worth mentioning for immune function

Vitamins E, B6, B12, copper, folate, selenium, and iron also support immune function. You can track all of these nutrients and more with MyNetDiary.

While all of these nutrients are important, megadosing doesn't help, and in some cases, can be harmful. Focus on your overall eating pattern rather than relying on supplements to help your body defend against invaders. Fruits and vegetables offer more than vitamins and minerals—they are full of protective antioxidants. Fiber-rich plant foods fuel a healthy digestive tract and are essential for immune function (surprisingly, most of our immune cells are in our gut!). In addition to supporting immunity, a healthy eating pattern can also help prevent or manage heart disease and diabetes.

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Nutrients->Antioxidants Nutrients->Other Vitamins & Minerals
May 17, 2024
Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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