During hard times, especially when we’re stressed, we tend to crave comfort foods. Unsurprisingly, then, there has been a recent uptick in the sale of familiar standbys—cookies, chips, mac and cheese. While there’s little harm in an occasional deviation from a normally healthy diet (of which, so-called “comfort foods” do not qualify!), it’s good to remember that a healthy diet plays an integral role in a healthy immune system. Not getting enough of the nutrients we need means our bodies are also not getting enough fuel to power important immune system functions that fight off illness (this is not to say, however, that you should overeat, because overnutrition and obesity may also reduce immune system strength).
Eating a real food diet can help us consume the wide variety of good-for-you nutrients that benefit our body. Zinc, selenium, iron, copper, vitamins A, C, E, and B-6, and folic acid have important influences on immune responses. Research has shown that a deficiency in even one essential nutrient can mean a greater likelihood of succumbing to infection as well as a longer recovery time.
Studies have also shown that the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are important for immune system function. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids may benefit our mental health, and being mentally fit can influence our immune system in a positive way. So, be sure to include omega-3 fatty acids in your real food diet as well!
If you’re wondering what a real food diet looks like concretely, here are some ideas:
Unsweetened, brewed tea with lemon
salsa (plants and flavor profile)
avocado (healthy fat)
Water with cucumber
Lettuce wrap (plants)
Hummus (protein & healthy oil)
Add veggies of your choice (plants)
Add spices & herbs (flavor profile)
Water with strawberry slices
Salmon (protein & omega 3)
Side salad (plants)
- Salad topped with raw seeds or walnuts (protein, healthy fat, omega 3)
- Salad drizzled with olive oil (healthy fat) & vinegar (flavor profile)
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Support Your Health With Nutrition,” December 9, 2019.
Ann Pietrangelo and Kristeen Cherney, “The Effects of Depression in Your Body,” Healthline, September 11, 2017.
Brian Kateman, “Want To Boost Your Immune System? A Healthy Diet Is An Important Start,” Forbes, March 11, 2020.
Caroline E. Childs, Philip C. Calder, and Elizabeth A. Miles, “Diet and Immune Function,” August 16, 2019.
D. Swanson, R. Block, and S.A. Mousa, “Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life,” January 5, 2012.
Harvard Health School Publishing, “Helpful ways to strengthen your immune system and fight off disease,” updated April 6, 2020.
Keith Pearson, “How Omega-3 Fish Oil Affects Your Brain and Mental Health,” Healthline, December 5, 2017.
Saray Gutiérrez, Sara L Svahn, and Maria E Johansson, “Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells,” October 11, 2019.
T.S. Sathyanarayana Rao, M.R. Asha, B. N. Ramesh, and K.S. Jagannatha Rao, “Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses,” 2008.
WebMD, “Fish Oil to Treat Depression?”