Immune-Boosting Nutrition

Are you trying to build up your immunity with your diet? What foods can lessen your risk of contracting colds and viruses?  SNCC’s Registered Dietitian Melanie Mitchell shares her tips and menu ideas below.  

A regular question that I hear from patients is “What can I eat to boost my white blood cell (WBC) count”. Unfortunately, no one food has the power to raise WBC however eating a diet full of immune-boosting nutrients can help lessen the effects of contracting colds and viruses. Vitamin C, zinc, vitamin E and vitamin D are all major players in immune function. It is important to note that eating foods high in these nutrients is the best way to optimize your immune functions- supplements, however, are another option if the foods listed below do not appeal. In the case of vitamin D, few food sources are available and our best source is the sun which isn’t always an option therefore it is reasonable to supplement 2000 IU of vitamin D daily. When choosing supplements, be sure to check that the product is verified by a third party such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) to be certain you are getting the nutrient and amount indicated on the label.

Food Sources of immune-enhancing vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin C: oranges, grapefruit, red bell pepper, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, tomato juice
  • Vitamin E: seeds, almonds, safflower oil, peanut butter
  • Zinc: seafood, lean meat, poultry, milk, whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts
  • Vitamin D: vitamin D milk, salmon, shiitake mushrooms- however the best source is 15 minutes of sun exposure

Other food additives worth mentioning that may have some immune-boosting effects include elderberry, matcha green tea, probiotics, and beta-glucan (found in oats and whole grains). Generally speaking, select fruits and vegetables that have deep colors such as berries, citrus, dark green vegetables, and tomatoes to set yourself up to fight whatever bugs come your way. In addition, sleep, stress management, exercise, and good hygiene play a role in building a stronger immune system.

Immune-boosting menu

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with sliced almonds and strawberries and matcha tea
  • Lunch: Wild mushroom soup with a sliced chicken sandwich topped with tomato and spinach
  • Snack: Clementine and plain greek yogurt with honey
  • Dinner: Berry balsamic glazed chicken with sweet potato

Prieti, B. Et al. Vitamin D & Immune function. Nutrients.2013: Jul;5(7) 2502-2521.

Wintergerst, E., Maggini, S., & Horrig,D. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nut Metab.2006;50(2):85-94.


If you are a patient and have questions about your diet, please ask your oncologist at your next appointment about receiving a complimentary nutritional session with Melanie Mitchell, SNCC Registered Dietitian.

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