Feed Your Immune System

We know the immune system is important for staying healthy, but what exactly is it and what can we do to support it?

The immune system is a complicated network of cells, tissues and organs in your body that protect against infection and disease. Given that there are so many pieces to the puzzle, there’s not one easy fix that can transform a weak immune system into a strong one in a snap of the fingers, but nutrition certainly plays an important role in its function.

Flat lay of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables.

Key Nutrients For Supporting Your Immune System

There are certain micronutrients in the foods we eat that play a key role in supporting the immune system1. An important step you can take for your immunity is to ensure you’re getting the recommended daily allowances2 of these nutrients. Find out how each of them serves your body and which foods you can find them in.

Sliced crimini mushrooms on a cutting board next to small bowl of whole mushrooms.

Vitamin D

Helps build and maintain strong bones by helping the body absorb calcium.3

Whole navel oranges next to a variety of sliced oranges.

Vitamin C

Acts as an antioxidant to help protect cells from damage, absorb iron from plant-based foods and support proper immune function.4

Bowl of fresh spinach.

Vitamin A

Helps the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs work properly.5

Whole rotisserie chicken on a cutting board.

Vitamin B6

Plays an important role in immune function and is needed for more than 100 enzyme reactions involved in metabolism.6

Milk pouring into a full glass.

Vitamin B12

Helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells.7

Vitamin E

Fights off invading bacteria and viruses while also helping widen blood vessels to prevent blood clots.8

Close-up of crimini mushrooms.

Selenium

Protects the body from infection and damage caused by free radicals.9

Iron

Helps make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body, and myoglobin, which provides oxygen to muscles.10

Five wedges of Swiss cheese.

Zinc

Helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses.11

Two bunches of fresh asparagus bound with twine.

Folate

Needed by the body to make DNA and other genetic material.12

Crispy potato chunks with fresh rosemary.

Copper

Used by the body to make energy, connective tissues and blood vessels, and to help maintain the nervous and immune systems.13

Healthy Hacks for Immune Support

Healthy eating habits can also help support your immune system. Here are some easy tips you can incorporate every day.

  • Red circle filled halfway.

    Make half your plate fruit and veggies.

  • Illustration of a wheat plant.

    Make half your grains whole grains.

  • Illustrated outline of a fish.

    Vary your protein routine.

  • Illustrated outline of a salt shaker.

    Consume less sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.

Quick Tips From a Registered Dietitian

Emily Weeks, RDN, LD, Culinary Dietitian, Food Photographer, Cookbook Author, Creator of Zen & Spice

Mushrooms are one of my all-time favorite foods. Not only do they add a delicious umami-rich flavor to dishes, but they’re full of good nutrition. A small handful of just four UV-exposed crimini mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin D, which is important when over 40% of the U.S. population is deficient. My favorite way to enjoy mushrooms is to chop them up and toss them with my favorite pasta sauce.

Emily Weeks, RDN, LD Culinary Dietitian, Food Photographer, Cookbook Author, Creator of Zen & Spice

Nutritious Recipes

Hungry for some healthy eats? Dig into these dietitian-approved recipes.

Sheet Pan Mushroom Fajitas

Sheet Pan Mushroom Fajitas from Chelsey Amer, MS, RD are a Mexican-inspired one-pan meal that’s simple, delicious, and nutritious for the entire family to enjoy.

Power Breakfast Bowl

Start the day strong with this savory whole grain breakfast bowl that includes sliced portabella mushrooms and a curry yogurt tahini topping. We’ve used barley, but feel free to swap it with your favorite grain such as quinoa or wild rice.

Moroccan Mushroom Lettuce Wraps

This Moroccan Mushroom Lettuce Wraps recipe featuring a combination of portabellas, crimini, and white button mushrooms that are seasoned and sautéed to perfection!

Chicken & Mushroom Pasta

This pasta is flavor packed and loaded with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, veggie pasta and chicken. It’s a 30 minute meal that’s perfect for busy weeknights!

Download the Feed Your Immune System PDF

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References