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Power Up Your Immune System For Winter With These Nutrients

Nov 30, 2016 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Did you know your gastrointestinal tract stores 70 to 80 percent of your body’s immune system? As we endure cold and flu season, you may want to look for ways to boost your immune system. One way to ward off sickness is by eating a nutrient-rich diet.

There’s evidence that a lack of some nutrients—like zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E—can change the way your immune system responds. Focus on changing what you eat to help your body get the nutrients it needs.

The immune system is precisely that—a system—not a single entity. In addition to eating healthy, choosing a healthy living plan is an important step for keeping your immune system strong and healthy. This includes:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Lowering stress and socializing more
  • Sleeping soundly, often 7 to 9 hours a night
  • Getting necessary vaccines, including newer vaccines available if you’re a senior
  • Not smoking or breathing in secondhand smoke

Here are some essential vitamins and minerals to keep you feeling great through the winter months:

Vitamin A
Foods high in colorful compounds called carotenoids, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and squash are all great options. The body turns these carotenoids into Vitamin A, which has an antioxidant effect to help strengthen the immune system against infection.

Vitamin B6
This vitamin is critical in how your immune system functions and is part of nearly 200 biochemical reactions in your body. Foods high in B6 include bananas, lean chicken breast, cold-water fish, and chickpeas.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is known for its ties to our immune system. Most people know it’s found in citrus fruits. Other sources include leafy green vegetables, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, and papaya.

Vitamin E
This is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight infections. Almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds are great sources, as well as spinach and broccoli.

This trace mineral appears to help slow down the immune response and control inflammation. It can be found in oysters, crab, lean meats and poultry, baked beans, yogurt, and chickpeas.

Selenium has the potential to slow the body’s over-active responses to certain aggressive forms of cancer. It’s found in garlic, broccoli, sardines, tuna, Brazil nuts, and barley.

 Iron helps your body carry oxygen to cells. There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. The body absorbs heme iron better than non-heme. Heme iron is plentiful in lean poultry, such as chicken and turkey, and seafood. You can also find iron in beans, broccoli, and kale.

Folate/Folic Acid
This is found in beans, peas, and leafy, green vegetables. Fortified breads, pastas, rice, and cereals often contain folic acid, too.

If you’re not able to get these nutrients through food, a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can be helpful. You don’t need more than the recommended daily value, so taking mega-doses of a single vitamin is not recommended.

Modern medicine can help if we get sick, but it’s up to us to maintain good health as our first line of defense. Powering up your immune system with a plant-based diet is an ideal first step. Try out this recipe for stuffed acorn squash as a start.

Stuffed Acorn Squash


Serves 4
With plant-based carbohydrates and belly-filling protein, this recipe is ideal for breakfast or an afternoon snack. The squash’s natural sugars are released while baking, making this no-sugar-added recipe perfect for people with diabetes. Plus, the vitamin A in squash will make your skin glow during these winter months. Enjoy with some decaffeinated chai tea to warm you up!

  • 2 acorn squash
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 16 ounces fat-free cottage cheese
  • ¼ cup chopped/slivered almonds or pecans
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Cut each squash in half. Scoop out and discard seeds.
  2. Pour olive oil onto baking sheet and spread over sheet with paper towel. Place squash face- down on the baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 20–25 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10–15 minutes. After squash has cooled, turn them over so the cut side is up.
  4. Fill each squash half with ½ cup cottage cheese. Top each with 1/8 teaspoon (dash) of nutmeg and 1 tablespoon chopped nuts.

For more recipes that focus on fruits and vegetables, visit

By Ann Caldwell and Maureen Shackelford, nutritionists and registered dietitians at Anne Arundel Medical Center. To learn more about nutrition services at AAMC, visit or call 443-481-5555.

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