Boosting your immune system - orange

As the weather grows colder outside and the days shorter, the dreaded winter bugs are lurking.

Given that many of us turn to food for comfort and warmth during the colder months, taking a closer look at the types of food you’re eating is one way to boost your immune system. Commonly people think of supplements, especially Vitamin C as a winter ‘cure-all’ but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Several nutrients are linked with the functioning of the immune system including Zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin D. 

A balanced diet, including Vitamin C and Zinc rich foods will help support a healthy immune system. But there are mixed results from taking Vitamin C and Zinc supplements to prevent and treat the common cold: 

  • Vitamin C supplements have been consistently found not to reduce the likelihood of contracting a cold but may slightly speed up recovery time. 
  • Zinc needs to be taken with caution. If taken in the early days of a cold, may reduce the length of a cold, however if taken over long periods of time may cause interaction with other medications or result in a copper mineral deficiency.
  • Vitamin D supplements are worth considering especially for those who have a known vitamin D deficiency or who spend most of their winter daylight hours indoors. In Australia we don’t get much Vitamin D through foods but instead our primary source is through sunlight exposure.

Meanwhile look out for in-season winter foods that have plenty of Vitamin C such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, oranges, kiwi fruit and grapefruit to include as part of your 2 fruits and 5 serves of vegetables recommended for daily intake. While lean meats, shellfish, dairy and lentils are all great foods to top up your zinc. 






Try to include a protein food with each meal and some snacks, it is recommended adults eat 2-3 small serves of proteins and 2-4 serves of dairy each day. This winter instead of grabbing an instant soup to warm up why not make your own including plenty of nourishing ingredients. If you are unfortunate enough to end up with a cold or flu be sure to top up your hydration. Dehydration in the colder months is common and has a tendency to worsen symptoms of the common cold such as headaches. Dietitians recommend consuming 35-45mls of fluid per kilogram body weight per day, or around 1.8-2.5L per day of mostly water, plain milk and some other drinks.

If you’ re considering taking supplements it’s best to seek advice from your doctor, dietitian or pharmacist. You can access a list of qualified dietitians in your area through the Dietitians Association of Australia website 

Author: Ms Denise Burbidge (BND, APD, GCDE), Accredited Practising Dietitian. Denise works in clinics across Melbourne (click here for locations) and has a special interest in diabetes, gastrointestinal nutrition and nutrition support for older adults.