What keeps us healthy

The immune system protects the body from harmful germs, substances, and changes in cells.  The immune system is always active, looking around the body for these germs or changes in the body. When there is a virus, bacteria or other harmful substances, the immune system becomes more active to try and keep our bodies safe and healthy.

Foods that support the immune system

There are certain foods that we can eat, which contain specific nutrients to support the immune system.  These nutrients include vitamins A, B6, B12, folate, C, D and E, and trace elements zinc, copper, selenium, and iron. To ensure your immune system is always working well, an individual should focus on a plant-based diet with some meat, eggs, dairy and oily fish (such as sardines or mackerel).

A plant-based diet includes lots of vegetables, some fruits, beans and legumes, and whole grains (such as brown rice and whole wheat bread). Some specific foods to eat regularly include:

  • Green leafy vegetables (e.g. cabbage, spinach and broccoli)
  • Orange vegetables and fruit (e.g. carrots, sweet potato, butternut, oranges, peaches, mango and papaya)
  • Other fruits and vegetables: red and green peppers, strawberries, kiwis, potatoes
  • Beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • Nuts
  • Poultry
  • Fish, including oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel
  • Beef (including liver), pork and lamb/mutton
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Fortified cereals

Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation

During the winter months there are many vitamins or immune “boosting” supplements advertised. Before spending money on supplements remember that it is always recommended that an individual meets their daily vitamin and mineral requirements through the foods that they eat. An induvial that eats a varied diet, as described above, should not need to take any supplements.

The only exception is vitamin D supplementation. There are very few foods that contain vitamin D, and although our bodies can create vitamin D from sunlight (direct sunlight on our skin) there are certain individuals that are at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency. This includes very overweight individuals, the elderly, strict vegans, individuals with limited sun exposure and individuals with darker skin. If you fall into one of the above categories, you may require a vitamin D supplement.

There is a reasonably priced blood test which is available to test the amount of vitamin D in your body.  If your levels are low, you should be having a supplement which contains more than the standards 600 IU of vitamin D. Look for a vitamin D supplement, not a multivitamin.  Many multivitamin supplements will contain many different vitamins, but for certain vitamins, such as vitamin D, the amount will not meet your daily requirements.

Probiotics are the good bacteria in an individual’s gut.  They play a part in immune support, and although probiotics can be found in food sources such as certain yoghurts, fermented foods and drinks such as kefir and Kombucha, there are a limited number of food sources.  These foods and drinks can also sometimes be costly and not available at local shops. Probiotic supplements may be an option for some individuals because they are easily found at most chemists.


Not all individuals will require the same supplements. For example: I eat a varied diet, however, consume little red meat and fermented dairy products, and get minimal sun exposure during the winter months. So, this winter I will be stocking up on vitamin D supplements, a daily zinc and selenium tablet (i.e. not above the recommended dose of 8mg for zinc) and a probiotic. A dietician can assist individuals in deciding on the best supplements to take, without wasting money on supplements that are not required.

Group Dietician

29 July 2020

Calder, P., 2020. Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 3(1), pp.74-92.
Publishing, H., 2020. Coronavirus Resource Center – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 July 2020]. 2020. Office Of Dietary Supplements – Zinc. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 July 2020].
Zeratsky, K., 2018. How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?. [online] Mayo Clinic. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 July 2020]