Five easy ways to boost your immune system with food

Kim Pearson
·3-min read
Photo credit: Jacky Parker Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jacky Parker Photography - Getty Images

From Runner's World

Vitamin C

High levels of vitamin C have been associated with enhanced antibody response and neutrophil (a type of white blood cell) function. This vital vitamin has even been used in some intensive care units to help treat Covid-19. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, understood to protect the immune system against oxidative stress generated during infections. It will also help combat running-induced free-radical damage.

Eat it: Oranges, peppers, leafy greens, broccoli, berries and tomatoes are all good sources of vitamin C.

Supplement it:

Vitamin D

As well as playing important roles in bone and muscle health, vitamin D is needed
for a healthy immune system. It is understood to regulate inflammation and increase macrophage (a white blood cell) function. However, vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly common in the UK. Sunlight is our primary source of vitamin D, so while a regular run in daylight will help you, it may not be enough. Evidence suggests vitamin D supplementation may prevent upper respiratory infections, so it’s worth taking a daily dose.

Eat it: Vitamin D can also be found in eggs and salmon, as well as mushrooms grown in sunlight.

Supplement it:


This essential mineral supports innate and adaptive immune system functions. Those who are zinc deficient have an increased risk of a variety of infections; supplementation has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of illness, to help heal wounds and to fight infection.

Eat it: Increase your intake with zinc-rich foods, including seafood (especially oysters), organic red meat, beans and nuts.

Supplement it:

Beneficial bacteria

An estimated 70-80 per cent of our body’s immune system is in the gut, in the form of beneficial ‘good’ bacteria. These probiotic bacteria line the gut wall and they have been shown to stimulate the production of immune cells, including IgA-producing cells, T lymphocytes and natural killer cells (really!). Studies have found that supplementation reduces the frequency and severity of respiratory infections.

Eat it: Probiotics occur naturally in fermented soya products such as miso and tempeh. Try adding Clearsprings Brown Rice Miso Paste (£4.79 for 300g, to soups, stews, bean dishes and sauces to boost flavour and give your gut a bacteria boost.

Supplement it:


Elderberry extract has been used as a natural anti-viral for centuries. Studies have found that supplementation works to increase inflammatory cytokine production, a healthy response from our immune systems when viruses are present. Their dark-purple colour is the result of beneficial compounds known as anthocyanins, powerful plant chemicals with antioxidant effects.

Eat it: Elderberries can be found in abundance in hedgerows, between July and October, depending on where you are in the UK.

Supplement it:

Kim Pearson is a nutritionist with over 10 years’ experience.

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