8 Ways to Support Your Immune Health

holding oranges

By Mary Purdy, MS, RDN

Clinical Dietitian and Adjunct Professor at Bastyr University


During this trying time of concern over the Coronavirus, there have mainly been recommendations to wash hands, avoid touching your nostrils, stay home etc. This is, of course, extremely important.  However, not much has been centered around a key concept when it comes to staying well:  Tapping into your own innate immune system to protect you. This is not just in relationship to the Coronavirus, but also around how to support your system so you may be less likely to get sick in general especially when resources and hospitals may need to focus attention elsewhere.  Luckily, there are numerous dietary and supplemental strategies that can offer support!

1. Consume immune protective herbs and spices!  Studies show that ginger, garlic, onions, oregano, rosemary, thyme all have properties that help the body to fight off viruses and bacteria.  They give a natural boost to your body’s defenses and can help fight inflammation.  Make a garlicy hummus! Sip raw ginger tea.   Throw oregano and rosemary into salads and roasted vegetable dishes or even a chickpea/tuna salad. Or go for an all in one elixir with my flu buster.

2. Get in more bright orange foods! Yes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes are all rich in beta carotene which has been shown to protect lung function and act as a strong defender against less favorable bugs that may come along.  Beta carotene also gets converted to Vitamin A which is critical for immune function. Bright colored fruits and veggies in general will offer all kinds of antioxidant protection and bolster your system. NOTE: Dark leafy greens are also rich in these beneficial “carotenoids”,  they are just covered up by the verdant chlorophyll.

3. Eat Vitamin C-Rich foods! Citrus, red peppers, broccoli, kiwi are all great sources.  Start your day with a grapefruit or an orange!  Throw a pepper on that sandwich.  Studies show that consuming Vitamin C can help prevent illness.  For safe measures, I suggest a supplement of 250mgs-500mgs/day which may provide additional support. Look for accompanying “bio-flavonoids” which help improve absorption and utilization of this important nutrient!”

4. Zap it with Zinc!  The mineral zinc is also key for our immune function and it can tend to be lower in those who are older, or who take antacids, and in some vegetarians/vegans.  Find it in high amounts in seafood and animal meat but also in moderate amounts in sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  As an added measure that may provide protection, a low dose supplement of 15-25 mgs/day  of the most well absorbed form, zinc piccolinate(WITH FOOD) can be a great way to get in sufficient amounts particularly if you feel compromised.

5.  Support your gut microbiome with fiber and fermented foods.  The ecoystem of bugs in your belly are a key component of your immune system, acting as one of your first lines of defense, so the goal is to keep those microbial soldiers well fed. Fiber, found in beans, legumes, whole grains as well as fermented or cultured foods like raw sauerkraut, Kvass, kefir, yogurts and fermented veggies provide nourishment and support to these hard workers.  Add beans and grains  to a soup or enjoy organic kefir (plant based available too!) as part of your breakfast with fruit and nuts.

6. Get your Vitamin D!  At this time of year and for those living in more northern locations, this critical vitamin can get low. Vitamin D is critical for optimal immune function and has also be shown to help address upper respiratory infections.  Supplementing is an easy way to get 1000IUs/day, a safe amount for most people, but needs may be higher especially if you know your vitamin D levels are below 30. Vitamin D can also be found in mushrooms, fatty fish and eggs.

7. The magic of mushrooms.  These fungal gems can offer an excellent boost to our immune function and offer some food for our beneficial gut bacteria which help us to fend off infection.  Toss them in salads, stir frys and soups or if mushroom ain’t your thang, there’s a supplement for that!  My fave: “MyCommunity”: A collection of different mushrooms for immune support in a simple capsule!

8. Minimize alcohol, sugar and processed foods.  Not only does the consumption of these foods increase the risk of suppressing your immune system, but eating large quantities can often mean that healthier and supportive nutrients are displaced.  Focus on a whole foods diet and try out a seltzer with a splash of juice or a few drops of bitters instead of your regular alcoholic drinks. At least for now!

BONUS:Try out a fortifying & safe herbal supplement. I am a proponent of  elderberry syrup or tinctures for those who may need extra support.  There is strong research to show that elderberry can protect against flu and fortify your immune system as well as be part of an effective treatment for upper respiratory infections. You can find this in natural food stores and even in some drugstores.  Quality brands include Sambucol, Gaia or Garden of Life.  Nervous about herbs?  The risk of potential adverse reactions for folks trying this out is extremely low.  Plus, it tastes quite lovely!

Heres’ to your health and that of those that surround you, and with whom I hope you share this post.

Keep following CDC guidelines, of course, but know that there is a lot we can do with diet and lifestyle to bolster our immune function.



1. Herbs

a. Thyme: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/thyme

b. Ginger/Garlic: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/inflammation

2. Vitamin A 


3. Vitamin C

a. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-c

b. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124957/

4. Zinc

a. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc

b. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9701160

5. Elderberry

a. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials.

b. Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial

6. Vitamin D


7. Mushrooms

a. Antiinflammatory and Immunomodulating Properties of Fungal Metabolites

b. Potential of Mushroom Compounds as Immunomodulators in Cancer Immunotherapy: A Review




  1. Prem Neopanay

    Great article Mam..Worth going through, we can as well add honey with turmeric and honey with cinnamon powder, these too has immune boosting properties when taken regularly.

    • Mary Purdy RD

      Agreed! Turmeric is wonderful for fighting inflammation which is very connected to immune function. Only had so much room to blog, but if I could write a book on this, that fantastic spice would be in there! Thank you for your comment.

  2. Allison Cecere MS RDN CDN

    Thank you for this helpful post. Turmeric entered my mind, as well, but totally agree it’s a much bigger discussion than what a blog allows.
    Well done. I’ve shared it!

    • Mary Purdy RD

      I so appreciate that! Yes to the turmeric encore! Bring it on. Makes me feel inspired to go make a Golden Milk this mornin’.

  3. Emily

    You’re so awesome, Mary. Thanks for doing this!!

    • Mary Purdy RD

      Why thanks, Emily! I hope it’s helpful to you and others. Stay strong!


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