11 Nutrients That Can Boost Your Immune System

by Isadora Baum, CHC
A woman cooking and balancing nutrients to boost your immune system
recep-bg/E+/Getty Images

Maintaining good health and a well-functioning immune system is so important for keeping us productive, happy, energized and less prone to encountering the common cold. There are several times when a strong immune system is especially beneficial, such as during season changes, allergy season and the dead of winter, as well as in certain places, such as schools, offices and other areas where they are larger crowds of people present.

As a certified health coach, I help my clients take better care of themselves, through practices that reduce stress and promote self-care, a healthy diet, and a consistent exercise regimen. I always like to say, "If you can't help yourself, then you won't be able to be there for others." By taking care of yourself, you'll be more resistant to germs, illnesses and other viruses that can be easily contracted within our day-to-day lifestyle. Think about it: the knobs on public doors, the self-serve food bars at local eateries, and more. Transmission of germs, as well as weather changes, are hard to avoid, so by maintaining a balanced sleep, exercise and dietary cycle, you'll increase your chances of staying safe and well. Look to include these eleven nutrients in your diet for a better, faster, stronger immune system now.

1. L-glutamine


L-glutamine, an amino acid known to heal the gut and reduce inflammation, can help fight the common cold and boost the digestive system. "L-glutamine is the primary fuel that your body uses to regenerate and repair the cells in the lining of your gut," says Sharon Brown, founder of Bonafide Provisions Restorative Bone Broth, over email with Bustle. "When the lining is sealed, healed and repaired, the immune system can work optimally to fight off the common cold," she adds. She recommends drinking three, eight-ounce cups of bone broth when fighting a cold.

2. Vitamin C

While the idea of vitamin C supplements have received some skepticism, there's no doubt that vitamin C, found in whole food sources, can help boost your immune system and fend off a common cold. Yellow bell peppers, kiwi fruit and citrus, such as oranges and grapefruit, are incredibly high in vitamin C and should be included in meals when you sense an illness coming on or are feeling more tired than usual, recommends Colleen Shaughnessy, owner of concierge fitness and wellness LulaFit, over email with Bustle. For supplement use, Dr. Fred Pescatore, M.D., over email Bustle, recommends using Pycnogenol, which "helps shorten the duration of a cold when taken at the on-set of symptoms and treats nasal congestion and runny nose."

3. Zinc

The properties in zinc have been shown to help the body bounce back from an illness and expedite the healing process. Zinc is my personal recommendation for family and friends, and whenever I think that I might be coming down with something or know that I have been in a germ-filled place, such as an airplane, school or children's day care center, I pop a zinc supplement twice daily. I suggest using airborne, but any supplement will be fine!

4. Probiotics

wilatlak villette/Moment/Getty Images

According to experts, probiotics can promote healthy digestion and reduce inflammation in the gut, which is the prime location in which most of our immune system resides. If we do not have healthy gut flora, we might be more susceptible to coming down with an illness and experience challenges to the healing process. Eat foods high in probiotics, such as Greek yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi and fermented vegetables, or take a probiotic supplement for additional relief once or twice daily.

5. Folate/Folic Acid

Folate, or folic acid, has been found to boost the immune system and detoxify the body, especially the liver. Rich sources include leafy greens (the darker, the better for higher anti-inflammation and detoxification properties!), grains, enriched cereals, beef liver, nuts, beans and eggs. If you find that you cannot get enough in your diet, a supplement might be wise, especially if you are pregnant.

6. Vitamin D

According to research, it's been shown that vitamin D intake might be correlated with a higher immune system. Apart from its natural source, sunlight, and its mood-boosting effects against depression, which has been directly proven to lower immunity, it can also influence the brain and body to amp up defense again viruses and infections. Great sources include natural sunlight, oily fish, such as salmon and sardines, eggs and fortified foods.

7. Omega 3's

i'am/Moment/Getty Images

Experts believe that omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which can then in turn boost immunity. When our minds and bodies are inflamed, we are more likely to catch a common cold and be unable to protect ourselves from viruses, fatigue and other lifestyle factors. Eating oily fish, olive oil, walnuts and chia and hemp seeds are incredibly beneficial, as is taking a fish oil supplement daily for preventative measure.

8. Other Healthy Fats

Healthy fats, beyond omega 3's, can boost metabolic function and provide insulation in the body to help it function well and act as a defense system against germs and intruders. Unsaturated fats, found in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, for instance, can lower inflammation in the body and enhance overall digestion. In fact, coconut oil has been shown to have digestive benefits. Eat avocados and nuts throughout the day for better health.

9. Vitamin B6

B Vitamins, especially B6, can help boost energy and cell function throughout the body. Having more sustainable energy levels can help us prevent the common cold and to bounce back more efficiently and quicker. Fatigue can lower our immune system's response, so being more energized will counter those poor effects. Sources include leafy greens, grains, fish and beef liver.

10. Iron

Javier Ghersi/Moment/Getty Images

Similar to B vitamins, iron works in conjunction to maintain stable energy levels and promote proper metabolic function and cell response. Foods plentiful in iron include leafy greens, lean proteins, fish, eggs and nuts. Toss leafy greens with garlic, onion and ginger, suggests Shaughnessy, as they can boost immunity, due to their allium properties. However, avoid taking an iron supplement with foods that are high in calcium, as it may lead to an interference where your body will be unable to properly absorb the iron it needs.

11. Antioxidants

Antioxidants been shown to boost immune cell function and contain anti-inflammatory properties to fight free radical damage. Common antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, and all of these nutrients can be found in colorful fruits and vegetables. Great sources include carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, berries, kiwi and oranges, among others. Eat the rainbow for a boost in immunity overall!

Whether you are feeling under the weather or not, including these nutrients in your diet could expedite the healing process and even prevent an onset from happening in the first place. By including adequate sleep and exercise, you'll be able to reap even greater benefits and keep yourself safe.