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Immune System Nutrition: Are Your Family's Defenses Armed for Respiratory Season?

Updated: Feb 22

‘Tis the season…for cold and flu bugs to to be passed around!  Are your defenses armed?  This month starts a two part series on giving your immune system the boost it needs throughout the winter, to not only reduce the risk of getting sick, but also to help you get over a bug once you’ve got it!

Immune System Nutrition

There are four foundational goals to focus on to optimize immune system nutrition, providing your body with the resources it needs to prevent illness during respiratory season:

  1. Whole foods

  2. Liver lovers

  3. Immune boosters

  4. Gentle gut support

Whole Foods Nutrition

Eating whole foods means choosing foods that are as close to their natural form as possible, organic whenever possible and avoiding processed, packaged and “fast” foods.  Doing so reduces the overall stress on your body.  An increase in stress of any kind disarms your immune system.  When you are grocery shopping, read the labels on products.  Avoid artificial colours, sweeteners and additives.  They do more damage in our bodies than good, adding to our overall stress levels. 


  • a rainbow variety of fruits and vegetables

  • whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole rolled oats, whole grain flours)

  • healthy fats (cold pressed oils - avocado, olive, sesame, coconut and raw nuts & seeds)

  • lean proteins (lean cuts of beef and pork, wild game, chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh)

Liver Lovers + Immune Boosters

The overall health of the liver is important in immune system functioning for two main reasons: it helps manufacture some of the primary building blocks in the immune system and it breaks down and removes toxins and waste in our bodies, to reduce the overall stress on our tissues.  It’s interesting that many of the foods that promote healthy liver function can also be classified as immune boosters.  In general, immune boosters contain lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support the immune system (and many other systems) in its overall functioning.  Below is a list of foods that are particularly helpful to your immunity.  All those that are followed by an asterisk are also liver lovers.

fresh salad, lemon wedges, sea salt


Sweet potato

Onion*, Garlic*

Red Bell Pepper

Butternut Squash

Brassicas (Broccoli*, Cauliflower*, Cabbage*, Kale*)

Beet (root & greens!)*




Red/Purple Grapes


Mango*, Papaya*, Pineapple*

Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries

Beans & Lentils (all varieties)* One of my favourite side dishes for this time of year uses many of the vegetables in this list: Roasted Root Veggies

2 Large Sweet Potatoes, cut into ½ inch chunks 4-6 Medium Beets, cut into ½ inch chunks 3 Large Carrots, coined 2 Large Parsnips, coined OR ½ small rutabaga, cut into ½ inch chunks ½ Large Onion (white or purple), coarsely chopped (about 1 inch pieces) 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced (can add more to taste) Toss all of the above in a little avocado &/or sesame oil, enough to lightly coat the vegetables.  Sprinkle on generous amounts of black pepper, basil, oregano, rosemary and turmeric.  Spread on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 350F for 30-45 minutes or until vegetables are soft, stirring every 10-15 minutes.

The Dirty Dozen + Clean Fifteen

In addition to choosing foods that support the liver and immune system, it's incredibly helpful to minimize the amount of chemicals that the body is exposed to. While it's most ideal to choose organic foods, it isn't always possible - for access to those choices and often with their additional cost. The Environmental Working Group publishes the Dirty Dozen (most sprayed crops) and Clean Fifteen (crops with lowest exposures to pesticides). If you need to be selective about what organic produce you purchase, make those foods on the Dirty Dozen list and don't worry about buying organic for the Clean Fifteen list.

Nutrition for Gentle Gut Support

The gut and the immune system have a very close relationship. In fact, the gut provides the immune system with important first lines of defense in the form of physical (gut lining, microbiome) and chemical (stomach acid, digestive enzymes) barriers between our outside world and inside world. In addition our gut microbiome produces important nutrients for maintaining health - amino acids, B vitamins and vitamin K.

Nourishing your gut microbiome with fermented foods - sauerkraut, kimchi, lactofermented veggies and fruits, kefir, homemade or good quality yogurt - is a simple but effective approach for supporting the gut and immune systems. If these types of probiotic rich foods trigger bloating, constipation or loose stools, this may be an indication of a more significant imbalance and a good idea to reach out to your naturopathic doctor for more strategic gut support.

bone broth ladle and pot

Bone broth contains gut nourishing nutrients that support both digestive and immune health. It is best made from the bones of naturally raised beef or poultry. There's a simple recipe included in the Family Guide for Respiratory Season (grab it below!). In a pinch, there are bone broth products available (often locally!). Be sure to confirm how and where ingredients are sourced. Frozen products are better than powder for preserving the healing properties but if you are choosing a powder, be sure it is dehydrated (some are chemically dried).

Bonus Goal: Minimize the Impacts of Chronic Stress

Minimizing chronic stress supports the health of both the gut and the immune system. Our nervous systems are designed to respond to stress through hyperactivation (fight/flight) or hypoactivation (freeze) in order to keep us alive. It is an essential and healthy response in the body. The challenge: when we're stuck in hyper or hypoactivation instead of returning to our range of regulation.

Do you have support or practices for moving through the stressors you experience? For more tips and strategies for supporting your family's immune system, check out the Family Guide for Respiratory Season.


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