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 and is the first line of defense against disease and infection. A healthy immune system is important at every age. A strong immune system helps protect against infections from bacteria and viruses as well as helps to heal wounds.
Focusing on eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods and adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors plays an important role in its function.
Key Nutrients for Supporting
Your Immune System
There are micronutrients in the foods we eat that play a key role in supporting the immune system.
An important step you can take for your immunity is to ensure you’re eating a balanced diet in order to fulfill the daily requirements of these micronutrients. Find out how each of them serves your body and which foods you can find them in.
What it does: Works with calcium and phosphorus to make strong bones
Where to find it: Mushrooms are the only source of vitamin D in the produce aisle and one of the few non-fortified food sources. It can also be found in salmon, fortified milk & eggs.
What it does: Acts as an antioxidant to help protect cells from damage. Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron and supports proper immune function.
Where to find it: Citrus fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, kiwifruit, bell peppers and broccoli.
What it does: Helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses.
Where to find it: Mushrooms, lobster, beef, pork, Swiss cheese and nuts.
What it does: Fights off invading bacteria and viruses while helping widen blood vessels to prevent blood clots.
Where to find it: Almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, pumpkin, and spinach.
What it does: Vitamin A is important for normal vision, the immune system, and reproduction. It also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs function properly.
Where to find it: Spinach, carrots, dairy products, liver, and fish.
What it does: Plays an important role in immune function. It’s also needed for enzyme reactions and helps the body use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates.
Where to find it: Shiitakes, bananas, squash, chickpeas, wheatgerm, chicken and tuna.
What it does: Helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA.
Where to find it: Found in salmon, tuna, beef, chicken, eggs, milk, and nutritional yeast.
What it does: Helps to keep tissues healthy by preventing cell damage
Where to find it: Crimini and portabella mushrooms, grains, Brazil nuts, halibut, ham, beef and turkey.
What it does: Carries oxygen via blood cells throughout the entire body, and is essential in the production of red blood cells.
Where to find it*: Oysters, legumes, potatoes, red meat, seafood, tofu and spinach.
What it does: Needed by the body to make DNA and other genetic material.
Where to find it: Asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kidney beans, edamame and avocado.
What it does: Used by the body to make energy, connective tissues and blood vessels. Helps maintain the nervous and immune systems.
Where to find it: Shiitake mushrooms, potatoes, cashews, turkey, spirulina and shellfish
What it does: Probiotics are “good” bacteria that promote health by working to balance good & bad bacteria within the colon.
Where to find it: Cultured dairy products such as yogurt and in fermented foods such as kimchi.
Healthy Lifestyle Hacks for Immune Support
The immune system is the body’s first line of defense against disease and infection. A healthy and strong immune system helps protect against infections from bacteria and viruses.
There are many lifestyle habits you can adopt to support a healthy immune system:
+ Get enough sleep
+ Manage your stress
+ Consume less sodium, saturated fat and added sugars
+ Be physically active, aim to get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity weekly
+ Include a variety of proteins in your weekly meals
+ Choose whole grains more often than refined grains
+ Eat a wide range of fruits and vegetables, including mushrooms!
Tips from Registered Dietitians
“As dietitians and foodies, we are big fans of mushrooms of all kinds and enjoy them regularly! They add so much umami-rich flavour to our favourite dishes; some varieties have a great meaty texture as well like king oyster, portabella and crimini. One of our go-to tips for parents looking to include more mushrooms in their children’s diets is to mix them with ground beef, like in the Lettuce Wraps recipe below, adding extra flavour, fiber & nutrients. Especially during the wintertime in Canada, it’s important to eat foods like mushrooms that are rich in Zinc and Selenium, as these minerals have been proven to reduce symptoms and duration of the common cold. Enjoy mushrooms on pizza, pasta, eat them raw on a salad, cook up some portabella “steaks” or mix them into burger patties. The possibilities with mushrooms are truly endless, they’re such a versatile vegetable!”
~ Tamara Saslove, Dietitian & Chef + Elis Halenko, Dietitian, Food Stylist & Photographer
Mushroom Lettuce Wraps
These Ginger & Soy Mushroom Lettuce Wraps blend beef and mushrooms for a umami-rich filling that is nutritious and delicious!
Baja Salmon with Mushrooms
This Baja Salmon with Mushrooms is an impressive & affordable dish that is packed with immune-supporting vitamins, minerals and protein.
Mushroom Toast with Bacon
A savoury combination of sautéed mushrooms and bacon served on a toasted bagel and topped off with a poached egg.
*Keep in mind that animal-based sources of iron are more easily absorbed, and eating animal-based sources along with plant-based sources can help the absorption of the plant-based iron. Further, adding a source of vitamin C, like lemon juice, can also make plant-based sources of iron easier to absorb.