Immune Supporting Nutrition

a nutrition series by Michelle Chappel

It’s important to keep your body in top shape. Supporting your immune system can be as easy as eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular exercise. As a diligent member of EverProven, you’re already taking steps to support your immune system. I’m here to help you take the next steps in supporting your immune system, with nutrition.

It’s nothing new for you to hear: eat a balanced diet, with lean protein, vegetables and whole grains. And honestly, I imagine a whole lot of you already are doing just that, but are you getting the right kind of nutrients to support you during these trying months of cold, flu, and that other one which we are so ready to be done with, season?

 Let’s break it down to simple key vitamins and minerals: vitamins A, C, D, and Zinc.

These four micronutrients help build a strong foundation for your immune system. Sure, you can buy a supplement and add this into your daily routine, but who wants to add another pill when we can simply include quality whole foods into our regular diet?  Now, you might be wondering what foods I’m talking about. Let’s start with Vitamin A.

Vitamin A often gets overlooked when we think of immune support.

Vitamin A is important for bone growth, skin health, vision, and cell growth and division.(1) The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for vitamin A is 900 mcg RAE (micrograms of retinol activity equivalents) for adult men, and 700 mcg RAE for adult women.(1) You can easily reach those daily amounts by including foods such as dairy products, eggs, fish, and liver. In addition, plant sources of vitamin A, also called carotenoids, are often yellow and orange, like sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, winter squash, red bell peppers, cantaloupe, and mango, or some dark leafy greens, like kale and spinach. One sweet potato, baked in the skin, contains 1,403 mcg of RAE. One half a cup of raw carrots is 459 mcg RAE. A single meal of 3 oz of sockeye salmon, 1/2 cup of boiled broccoli, and a slice of pumpkin pie is 607mcg RAE.(2) 

Yes, I am aware that I mentioned pie in a nutrition post. I did say 1 slice, and for this post I am talking micronutrients, not sugar or calories. I am a firm believer that food is not “bad” or “good”. Moderation and conscious eating allows for an enjoyable and sustainable healthy diet.

We’re no stranger to vitamin C, the immunity powerhouse.

Vitamin C has anti-viral and antihistamine properties, possibly one of the main reasons it’s been found to be so effective in reducing the common cold.(3)The RDA of vitamin C is set at 90mg for adult men and 75mg for adult women.(4) Fruit and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C. Believe it or not, 1/2 a cup of red bell pepper contains more vitamin C than a medium orange!(4) Citrus fruit, kiwifruit, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, strawberries, and tomatoes are all ways to include vitamin C into your daily diet.

You can easily meet your RDA by including 1/2 cup of red bell peppers to your omelet, or drinking 3/4 cup of orange juice, or maybe start your morning off with 1/2 a grapefruit and end your day with 1/2 a cup of brussels sprouts or snack on a cup of raw broccoli and cauliflower. To get the most nutrients out of your vitamin C rich foods cook them with minimal water for shorter lengths of time, or better yet consume them raw, as vitamin C is heat sensitive and cooking can affect the nutrient content.(5)

Vitamin D, oh how we miss you in New England.

Vitamin D is produced within the body from the sun’s UV light. Vitamin D enhances the antimicrobial effects of immune cells. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with upper respiratory infections and decreased concentrations of the antimicrobial protein essential for infection control.(6) The best source of vitamin D is the sun, however, including food sources such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, and cod liver oil) or sun dried shiitake mushrooms as part of a regular diet can help to build your vitamin D stores. Many dairy products, as well as cereals produced in the US, have been fortified to help boost our D status.

Unfortunately, vitamin D produced from the sun is influenced by genetic determinants, latitude, season, skin pigmentation and lifestyle, and since we live in New England, this means many of us are deficient in vitamin D.(7)  All the more reason to include as many food sources of vitamin D as possible!

Last but not least, we have Zinc.

Zinc is involved in many biochemical actions within the body. In addition to supporting immune function, it’s required for the senses of taste and smell.(8) The RDA for Zinc is 11mg for adult men and 8mg for adult women.(8) Zinc deficiency is associated with decreased immune function. The body needs zinc to activate an immune response, and even a mild to moderate zinc deficiency can weaken the protective function of certain white blood cells and decrease their ability to fight off harmful foreign substances.(8)

The good news is that zinc is found in many animal and plant sources. Oysters contain more zinc than any other food. Three ounces of oysters contain 74mg of zinc.(8) For those of us who are not regularly consuming oysters, sources like red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, and whole grains offer a variety of options. A standard 6oz burger contains 10.6mg of zinc. A 3oz serving of pork chop contains 2.9mg, combine that with 1/2 cup of baked beans and you get another 2.9mg of zinc. As you can see, with a couple combinations, you can easily be meeting the RDA for zinc without having to get too creative.

This brings me back to my original point…

…eating a well-balanced diet filled with a variety of real food can easily help you reach the recommended amount of these key immune supporting nutrients. Whole foods (and I’m not talking the store) contain all you need to properly fuel and support your body. So before you go out and buy a pile of new supplements, just look inside your refrigerator or open your pantry. The answer is right there in the form of real food, which can bring you many additional ingredients of health and happiness.

Happy eating.


  3. Johnston CS. The antihistamine action of ascorbic acid. Subcell Biochem 1996;25:189-21
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  6. Jeng L., Yamshchikov A.V, Judd S.E., Blumberg H.M., Martin G.S., Ziegler T.R., Tangpricha V. Alterations in vitamin D status and anti-microbial peptide levels in patients in the intensive care unit with sepsis. J. Transl. Med. 2009;7:28. doi: 10.1186/1479-5876-7-28.

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