By: Kelly Atyeo-Fick, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.
The immune system is your body’s “internal military” protecting you from microorganisms that can make you sick.1 It’s not just one part of the body, but rather a system of cells, tissues and organs that work together to keep you strong.2
When invading microorganisms try to attack, you can fight back if you have a strong immune system.1
Nutrition plays a huge role in ensuring the body’s immune system is strong, making it crucial to eat healthy throughout your life.1,2 This includes having a balance of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats – and getting essential vitamins and minerals.
Research suggests that deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals may impact the immune system.1-3 Being aware of nutrients that support immune health and where they are found can help you incorporate them into your meals.
Some of the micronutrients needed for a strong immune system include:
- Vitamin A - found in liver, dairy products, fish, vegetables (contain carotenoids that get converted to Vitamin A in the body)4
- Vitamin D – from the sun, fortified dairy and soy products, egg yolks, salmon5
- Vitamin C – fruits and vegetables
- Vitamin E – fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish6
- Vitamin B6 – chicken, enriched cereals, nuts, legumes, bananas7
- Vitamin B12 – chicken, dairy products, fish, fortified non-dairy beverages8
- Zinc – chicken, eggs, soy, dairy products, wheat germ9
- Folate – dark green vegetables, enriched grain products, organ meats, soy nuts10
- Iron – meat, chicken, yogurt, soy, tofu11
- Selenium – brazil nuts, yogurt, grain products, sunflower seeds, chicken3,12
- Copper – shellfish, whole grains, organ meats, dark leafy greens13
As you can see, you have a lot of food options to help get the proper amount of nutrients in your diet!
Eating a Variety
Variety is the spice of life and it also helps ensure your getting all the nutrients your body needs!
This doesn’t need to be complicated. When making chicken, pair it with different side dishes of vegetables and whole grains to keep things interesting and to get all your nutrients.
Using ground chicken is a perfect example of how one ingredient can be used in a variety of ways. Add it to pasta sauces, chilli or in a stir-fry - like the below Ground Chicken Sesame Stir fry. With a side of brown rice, this recipe is full of immune boosting nutrients:
Power up with Chicken!
When thinking about what to pair with your healthy carbohydrates (i.e. whole grains), think chicken! Chicken is a complete protein, containing all the amino acids your body needs to maintain health and wellness. Also, chicken is a fabulous source of many of the micronutrients noted above that support the immune system. By eating a variety of cuts of chicken and even trying chicken liver, you will get Vitamin A, Iron, Zinc and much more!
Try these Lemonade Chicken Legs with Garlic Sweet Potatoes for your B-Vitamins, Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc!
If you’re really adventurous, try to get your essential vitamins and minerals from Chicken Liver with this Warm Chutney Chicken Liver Salad
The immune system is complex and relies on a number of factors to keep it working properly. Sometimes the immune system can be compromised for reasons that are out of our control.14 However, you can still take steps to try and keep it strong. In addition to healthy eating, some other lifestyle practices to boost the immune system include1:
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking & consuming alcohol in moderation
- Getting enough sleep
- Maintaining healthy weight
- Proper hygiene practices
- Getting regular check ups with health care professionals
To ensure you are getting the right amount of nutrients to support a healthy immune system, speak with a Registered Dietitian. Consult your health care professionals to identify how to keep your immune system strong!
- Harvard Health Publications. (2015). How to boost your immune system. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute. (2016). Micronutrient Information Center: Immunity. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrients-health/immunity
- Ross, M. (2015). Top 5 vitamins and minerals for a healthy immune system. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.copemanhealthcare.com/resources/top-5-vitamins-minerals-healthy-immune-system/
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Vitamin A. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-A.aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Vitamin D. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-D.aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Vitamin E. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-E.aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Vitamin B6. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-B6-(Pyridoxine).aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Vitamin B12. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-B12.aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Zinc. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Minerals/Food-Sources-of-Zinc.aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Folate. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Folate.aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Iron. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Minerals/Food-Sources-of-Iron.aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Selenium. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Minerals/Food-Sources-of-Selenium.aspx
- MedlinePlus. (2015). Copper in diet. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002419.htm
- MedlinePlus. (2015). Autoimmune disorders. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000816.htm