Healthy Eating

6 Immune-Supporting Eating Habits

Plus, the foods you’ll want to focus on.

By: Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC

Let’s face it — nobody wants to deal with a yucky cold or sickness. Between runny noses, scratchy throats, and an overall feeling of weakness, dealing with an illness is simply no fun. 

Fortunately, there are some things we can do to support our immune health. From getting quality sleep to managing stress, there are many simple ways to help support our immune systems all year round. And when it comes to diet, there are some immune supporting eating habits that can easily be incorporated into an overall healthy diet. 

The Role of Diet & Our Immune System 

The foods that we choose to eat can have a profound impact on our overall health, and that includes our immune health. 

We get many of our immune-supporting nutrients from the foods that we eat. Nutrients like zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D are found in a variety of foods, and supplying our body with these key nutrients can help keep our bodies strong and healthy. Live probiotics colonize our gut after we eat them, and these can help support our immune health too. 

And on the other hand, eating foods that contain too many added sugars, damaged fats, and salt can work against our health goals and can weaken our immune system. 

Bottom line? Our diet can play a huge role in our immune health. 

6 Immune Supporting Eating Habits 

Immune supporting eating habits are simple to include in a healthy lifestyle with a little know-how. While there are many ways that people can support their immune health, here are six evidence-based examples of how to help support a healthy immune system. 

#1 Avoid Eating Too Many Added Sugars

Data shows that too much sugar does not support a healthy immune system. So while noshing on candy and sodas may be delish, they are not the best choice when it comes to immune health.

When you’re craving something sweet, try turning to whole foods first like enjoying a pitted date or two with nut butter or a sliced apple with peanut butter. Honey also makes a great natural sweetener for your morning coffee or tea that also happens to be a rich source of antioxidants.

#2 Include Orange Juice In Your Diet

Yes, the old-school immune-support remedy of 100% orange juice has some science behind it. 100% orange juice contains no added sugars and is chock-full of important immune-supporting nutrients like vitamin C and folate. Plus, natural components found in a glass of orange juice may support immune health and reduce inflammation. 

Just be sure to choose an orange juice that is free from added sugar, or if you’re feeling adventurous, make your own freshly squeezed OJ!

#3 Skip The Salt Shaker

You may eat a balanced diet rich in immune-supporting nutrients. But if you are eating too much salt, you may be working against your health goals, regardless of how much OJ you are drinking. High-salt diets have been linked to a weakened immune system, so leaning on more natural seasonings that are sodium-free — think garlic, basil, and red pepper flakes — can be a smart swap in your diet. 

Keep in mind that many of us gravitate towards warming foods, like soups and stews this time of year. However, the canned varieties can be very high in sodium. Try making your own nourishing homemade soup where you can control how much added salt you add!

Try this delicious immune-supporting soup here.

#4 Sip on a Mocktail Instead of a Cocktail

A once-in-a-while alcoholic drink may not be a dealbreaker when it comes to your immune health. But overindulging in alcohol can result in some unsavory immune-related outcomes. Try sipping on a mocktail instead of a cocktail to help avoid drinking too much alcohol. Try unsweetened sparkling water with a splash of OJ for an added vitamin C boost! 

#5 Eat Protein-Rich Foods

Foods like eggs, lean beef, tofu, and nuts all contain protein — an important macronutrient that plays many important roles in the body. And among the sea of functions it offers, protein plays a key role in immune function. While you don’t need to go protein-crazy, making sure you are including protein in your diet is extremely important for supporting your immune system. 

RELATED: 6 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Protein 

#6 Eat Fermented Foods

From yogurt to kimchi to miso too, there are tons of fermented foods that are enjoyable and packed with gut health-supporting live bacteria (probiotics). Data shows that having a healthy microbiome that is rich in live probiotics can help the body combat a potential illness

RELATED: The Best Foods For a Healthier Gut, According to an RD

Choosing Foods For A Healthy Immune System

Eating foods that support a healthy immune system is incredibly important, no matter what season it is. Just keep in mind that while a balanced and healthy diet can’t prevent illness, combining a healthy diet with other healthy lifestyle factors can help armor the body with what it needs to help combat illness. 

Things like a balanced eating plan, regular hand washing, stress management, quality sleep, and exercise are all important lifestyle factors to focus on as we head into the colder months and the notorious “germy” time of year.