Cold and flu season in conjunction with a global pandemic naturally makes people focus on ways they can support their immune system. While there is no food that will be a magic bullet to preventing you from contracting a cold, the flu, COVID-19, or otherwise, there are nutrients that have been shown to help people support their immune system and possibly reduce the duration or symptom severity of these conditions.
And while some supplement companies may try and convince you that you need to take a fistful of pills to keep your body healthy, dietitians will agree that many key nutrients can very easily be obtained through your diet. Nutrients that have been scientifically-proven to support a healthy immune system (some of which have been linked to COVID-19 specifically) include vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, and vitamin D.
Leaning on snack time is a great way to sneak in immune-supporting vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional features. Instead of noshing on candy, sodas, and other foods that don't offer much in the nutrition department, try eating some of these dietitian-recommended, snacks for immunity instead. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don't miss 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
California Raisins with a sprinkle of cinnamon
California raisins are naturally sweet with no added sugar, and satisfy my 3 PM sweet tooth just as well as sugar-packed candy. But when I am choosing raisins instead of candy, I am choosing a food that naturally contains fiber (7% DV) and potassium (6% DV). Fiber – particularly soluble fiber – has been shown to positively affect gut microbiota. And since our microbiota plays a key role in our immune function, noshing on fiber-rich foods can help support your immune system in a naturally sweet way.
"Many people think of just including sweet potatoes at a meal, but they also make for a great snack option. Sweet potatoes are high in Vitamins A and C as well as several antioxidants, making them a great ally for your immune system. Consider throwing them in hummus or sweet potato cookie dough – bonus is that kids will love it too! " – Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN of Bucket List Tummy.
Bell Peppers with hummus
"Snacking on bell peppers gives a natural boost of vitamin C. Pair it with hummus for some gut-friendly fiber to further support the immune system." – Melissa Groves Azzaro, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and author of A Balanced Approach to PCOS
"With the interest in immune support foods and supplements, I always like to remind my clients that there are foods beyond the produce patch that also offer the nutrients commonly associated with immune health, like zinc, Vitamin D, iron, and folate. While I certainly encourage consumption of fresh and frozen fruits like berries when available, given the state of the pandemic again it's often challenging to access these for many.
Enter: fortified breakfast cereal! Choose a brand that offers whole grains and fortified nutrients like zinc, iron, vitamin D, and folate. Many often supply 100% of your daily iron needs, as well as 15 to 20% of your daily zinc, vitamin D, and folate needs. A win-win for all!" – Elizabeth Shaw, MS RDN CPT, Nutrition Expert at ShawSimpleSwaps.com and author of The Air Fryer Cookbook For Dummies, 2020.
Sliced Apples with Peanut Butter
"Sliced apple and peanut butter is one of my favorite snacks for supporting the immune system. Make sure to eat the apple skins because they have nearly all of the quercetin apples offer. Quercetin is a plant compound that helps reduce your risk for infection. Peanut butter packs protein that your body uses to make the cells it needs to fight off germs. Two tablespoons of peanut butter are a good source manganese and supply zinc, two must-have minerals for a strong immune system." – Liz Ward MS, RDN, registered dietitian and co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan
"Tea contains polyphenols and flavonoids, antioxidants which may help keep your immune system strong. Grate some ginger and add it to your tea for an added bonus. Ginger contains anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties to help fight infections. Spice up your tea with lemon and ginger, cinnamon and honey." – Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. For more, check out 12 Side Effects of Drinking Tea Every Day.
"Sardines are rich in 3 key nutrients that can benefit the immune system: (1) Zinc: a mineral that plays an important role in the production of immune cells. Even a mild deficiency of zinc will affect your immune system. (2) Omega-3 fatty acids: these are good fats typically associated with heart health, but they may also enhance white blood cell activity. And (3) Vitamin D: studies have shown that it can encourage certain cells to fight infection."
"A suggestion is to make sardine toast: Just mix crushed sardines with lemon juice, olive oil, and chopped onion and place on toasted whole-grain bread." – Elena Paravantes RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and creator of olivetomato.com
"Foods rich in zinc, like beef, have been shown to support the immune system by fighting inflammation and may even help shorten the duration of the common cold!" – Elise Compston, RD, registered dietitian and owner of Compston Kitchen
Smoothie made with fortified orange juice
Smoothies are a quick and easy way to sneak in a slew of nutrients with little fuss. Using fortified orange juice will give your concoction a boost of vitamin C and vitamin D — two nutrients that help support a healthy immune system.
Since people with low vitamin D levels are more susceptible to colds, the flu, and respiratory infections, choosing fortified orange juice is key during cold and flu season.
For more, check out these 27 Best Immune-Boosting Smoothie Recipes.
Chocolate Covered Strawberries
Just 8 strawberries contain almost 100% of the daily value of vitamin C along with other key nutrients to help keep us healthy. The chocolate covering is used simply because chocolate is delish! Continue to protect yourself from infection with these 11 Best Immune-Boosting Foods to Fight COVID-19, Say Doctors.