Nutrition and Immunity

Adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors prevents chronic diseases and maintains our quality of life. Most of us have heard that eating a diet of plant-based, nutrient-dense foods can protect us from developing problems later, but what does good nutrition do for us NOW?

Malnutrition is the most common cause of immune-deficiency worldwide.

A healthy, balanced diet can keep us from getting sick and
help us recover faster if we do get sick.


Here is a list of some of the best ways to keep your immunity up.  And remember – eating foods rich in these vitamins and minerals is usually better for your body than taking vitamins or supplements.  Before taking vitamins or supplements, always speak to your doctor.

Nutrition and Immunity Checklist

checkBe a healthy weight. It is impossible to look at a person and know if they are well-nourished.Talk to your doctor to see if you are at a healthy weight, or calculate it yourself here using your height and weight (BMI). A Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5-24.9 is considered healthy. If your BMI is above or below this number you are likely to have some nutritional deficiencies. In addition, an unhealthy proportion of fat to muscle in the body can be a sign of malnutrition. You can also analyze your body fat using a BIA machine, available at many gyms and doctor’s offices.

checkZinc. Zinc works together with amino acids in protein to build new cells in the body, including white blood cells found in our immune system. It also is responsible for maintaining the sense of taste and smell. The body has no way to store zinc, so we must consume it regularly in our diets. For adults over 19 years, it is best to get your recommended daily requirement (RDA) (11mg/day men, 8mg/day women) of Zinc from animal sources because the body cannot absorb it as easily from plant sources. 
Good Sources: oysters, beef, crab/lobster, pork chops, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, baked beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, yogurt, chicken (dark meat), cashews, almonds, cheese (swiss, cheddar, mozzarella) and milk.

checkIron. Iron supports cell growth and development, including the white blood cells and other immune components that fight off infection and stop cancerous cells from multiplying. Outside of immunity, iron helps form red blood cells and carry oxygen to our muscles and tissues. Eating foods high in Vitamin C with an iron-rich meal increases absorption of iron in the small intestine.  Conversely, tannins (found in red wine) work against this process – so next time you’re sitting down to a nice steak dinner, consider switching out your red wine for a glass of orange juice! The Iron RDA for males over 19 years is 8 mg/d and females is 18 mg/day.
Good Sources: ready to eat breakfast cereals, great northern and kidney beans, dark chocolate (limit to 1 inch square per day), spinach, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, beef, cashews, whole wheat bread, dried fruit, baked potatoes, eggs and brown rice.


checkAnti-Oxidants. Consuming foods with anti-oxidants is key to maintaining good health and preventing chronic disease. Antioxidants counteract substances called ‘free radicals’ in our bodies. Free radicals are produced from normal processes like eating and digestion and in the environment from pollution, cigarette smoke and UV rays.  Being exposed to too many free radicals increases inflammation, damaging cells and putting you at a higher risk for infection, cancer and heart disease.  The most important anti-oxidants in regards to immunity are Selenium, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Selenium: Selenium is a mineral found in soil, and the amount of selenium in food varies by the region where the plant or animal was farmed. Selenium works alongside Vitamin E in the body to combat free radicals specifically in the stomach and intestines after toxins and pollutants are ingested. The Selenium RDA for adults over 19 years is 55 mcg/day.
Good Sources: Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, shrimp, ham, beef, turkey, enriched pasta, chicken (light meat), cottage cheese, brown rice, eggs, whole wheat bread, beans, lentils, oatmeal and yogurt.


Vitamin C: Vitamin C cannot be made or stored in the body, so it must be eaten in sufficient amounts every day. In addition to acting as an anti-oxidant, Vitamin C helps heal wounds from small cuts to major surgeries. Foods high in Vitamin C consumed in an iron-rich meal increases absorption of iron in the small intestine. The Vitamin C RDA for adults over 19 years is 90 mg/day for males and 75 mg/day for females.
Good Sources: Bell peppers, orange, grapefruit, kiwi, broccoli, strawberry, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cabbage, cauliflower, baked potato, tomatoes, spinach, green peas.


Vitamin E: Vitamin E is fat-soluble and can be stored in the body. Research has shown that Vitamin E may prevent or delay coronary heart disease and decrease clotting. Some studies also found that Vitamin E specifically helps combat carcinogenic effects of nitrites in processed meats and other pre-prepared foods. The Vitamin E RDA for adults over 19 years is 15 mg/day.
Good Sources: Sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower or safflower oil, peanut butter or peanuts, vegetable oils such as olive, soybean, corn, cottonseed and safflower, nuts and nut butters, seeds, whole grains, wheat, wheat germ, brown rice, oatmeal, soybeans, sweet potatoes, legumes (beans, lentils, split peas) and dark leafy green vegetables.

In 431 BC, Hippocrates, father of medicine said, “Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Take his advice and invest in your health by incorporating these immunity-boosting foods into your diet!


– Erica

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