Dietitian Shares How to Support a Healthy Immune System During the Pandemic

dietitian tips immune booster Apr 09, 2020

If you're like me, you have underlying health conditions that are making you worried during this pandemic. 

Maybe you know someone who's high risk.

One of the crazy things that's BLOWING MY MIND during this uncertain time is why the heck the CDC isn't sharing more than just - "Eat well balanced meals!"

Ok CDC, let's do a bit better.
Step One: Explain to the public what "Well balanced meals are."
Step Two: Dive deeper and share how to arm your body/immune system with tools so it can work to the best of its ability!

Why aren't we talking MORE about Nutrition?

We need to stop the spread of this crazy virus using the CDC recommendations AND it would be a smart idea to also arm our body with tools that support a healthy immune system.  I'm excited to share with you exactly what I'm doing as a Registered Dietitian to keep everyone in my house as healthy as I can!

I'm giving you THREE ways to consume this information.
1.  Short & Sweet: The "Cliff Notes" version for those who just want the tools and not necessarily want to understand e v e r y t h i n g.
2. Read the full blog. Here you'll get a TON of helpful tools.
3. Listen to the podcast - Nutrition's My Life Podcast Episode 41: Immune Boosting Foods.


For those who want to nerd out. Read on friend. Read on!




The way our immune system works is that it can either go down one pathway to make an inflammatory protein or another pathway to make a protein that supports an efficient & working immune system. When inflammation is present, the immune system is dormant and is not making the necessary tools to fight infections and repair the body.

An anti-inflammatory diet is CRUCIAL to achieve a functioning immune system.


If I had to summarize anti-Inflammatory foods with one category It would have to be PLANTS.

Plants contain key nutrients that reduce inflammation in the body:
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids {Found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fatty fish (not a plant but had to add it in)}
- Antioxidants {Found in plants. Every color provides a different antioxidant. Eat a variety of colors every meal each day. }
- Polyphenols {Found in berries, cocoa, beans, vegetables etc }

These key nutrients work best when inflammatory foods are reduced and negative habits have been replaced..
Things to reduce are :
- Processed Foods
- Dairy Products
- Animal Proteins {I still eat meat but very little. Quality is KEY and portion size matters!}
- Stress {Chemical, Physical, Emotional}

Disclaimer: I understand a lot of these foods are hit and misses depending on where you're located in the U.S. Right now we should aim to do the best we can with what we have. Give yourself some grace during this pandemic and know these are just tools I've gathered for you in a nice location for you to use as little or many as you can. 

Going back to what the CDC recommends - a balanced meal. 

A balanced meal looks like this 

What's not mentioned here in this picture is the fat - I like to add a thumbs worth of fat to my meals. This can be in the form of an avocado, olive oil, nuts, or seeds.

You're starting to understand the power of plants, aren't you!? They're so cool and what I'm about to share with you is really really cool. This is how you start using food as medicine.

For a full list of anti-inflammatory foods- grab your FREE Anti-Inflammatory Food List here.

Immune Boosting Nutrients and the Foods They're Found In!

One of my favorite nutrients of all time is Selenium. Selenium helps support a healthy immune system, because it is a key nutrient in selenoproteins. Selenoproteins help with inflammation regulation and immunity. 

There have been studies done in the past regarding Selenium supplementation and viruses from China (1).  The article I'm referencing is very "sciency", so the gist of it there was a virus (CVB3) that caused a lot of heart problems during an epidemic. They found that Selenium supplementation acts not only to elevate antiviral immunity, but to prevent genetic adaptations in the viral genomic RNA that lead to increased virulence and cardiac pathology (1).  

What that just said was: selenium helped the body increase antiviral immunity but also helped protect against the genetic changes viruses place on the host's body. 

The graphic below shares with you sources of selenium. I personally eat 3 Brazil Nuts a day for thyroid support (learn more about thyroid health with Episode 06 of the Nutrition's My Life Podcast. Listen here ).


Attention: I, Nicole Eichinger, do not recommend taking Selenium Supplementation without speaking to your doctor or dietitian.  Taking too much selenium can have adverse reactions.





The next nutrient important in immune regulation is zinc. Zinc wears many hats and there's a lot of products out there encouraging zinc for immune support. They're right, however, this is another supplement that needs to be used under the supervision of a doctor or dietitian. 

Too long of zinc supplementation has been shown to increase risk of copper depletion (zinc binds up to copper in our bodies and we can become deficient). Another reason why we should eat our nutrients as much as we can vs supplementing.

Reason #213984732948 FOOD IS COOL!

In the graphic below I share with you the top zinc resources. Make note of the dietitian tip in green to get the best absorption possible with zinc!

We're in a state of pandemic right now and luckily a lot of these immune boosting foods are shelf stable! Sprouted pumpkin seeds, dried beans, nuts, and whole grains are great sources of zinc but also easy to keep on the shelf!! 


Next key nutrient we don't really get from food but the sun. Vitamin D is absorbed through our skin, then gets hydroxlyzed in the liver and then again in the kidneys. Then, and only then, is it in it's active form,  1,25 - dihydroxycholechalciferol. 


Why are so many of us low in Vitamin D?

Answer: We may be low due to sunscreen in our makeup, the population being more aware of protecting ourselves from the sun in general and are inside more. This is helpful for skin cancer prevention practices however it's stopping us from receiving the daily sunlight that we're needing. 


A lot of our food products have man made chemicals that can cause a poor absorption of Vitamin D. Since being a Dietitian, I have seen a correlation with a high processed foods and low vitamin D levels. This to me is one of the major reasons why many Americans are low in their Vitamin D level.

Low Vitamin D levels have been shown to increase risk of infections and so I make sure to go outside daily PLUS take my vitamin D supplement. Again, please see your doctor or dietitian for supplement recommendations. 


Vitamin C is what most people gravitate towards when they have a sniffle or cough.  They're right to do so!

Vitamin C plays many roles in the immune response. In a time of need the body has a higher demand for Vitamin C due to it's antioxidant properties in the action of controlling inflammation. We all know oranges are a great source of vitamin C but did you know about the ones I share below?


The next thing we're talking about is not a nutrient but a living organism!! We're talking PROBIOTICS!

FACT: Adults with a healthy gut can have 2 to 5 pounds of beneficial bacteria. 

Probiotics are ESSENTIAL for your immune system to function efficiently! 70% of the immune system lies within the mucousal lining of your gut wall! 

If your gut wall is not working so hot (Stress, Leaky Gut, IBS, Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis), then you're at a higher risk of not having an immune system that's up to par. 

The probiotics eat the fiber in the aforementioned foods. I read that 9 out of 10 Americans are fiber deficient... meaning the beneficial bacteria dies off and leaves your immune system weak.

Vice versa - putting your gut health as a priority by feeding your body a diet rich in fiber from fruits and veggies is crucial to building a healthy immune system. 





There are many different ways to get in probiotics through food. This comes in the form of fermented foods. I grow my own sourdough starter with just water and flour. It sits at room temperature and I have to feed it with more flour and water every few days. Same with my Kombucha! 

Probiotics give things a tangy taste (something I love!) and are great in small frequent intakes! 

However with that said, many of you reading this won't feel a difference with food alone because of your stress level. Know that probiotic supplementation is necessary for many people, I'm one of them.

Please see your doctor or Registered Dietitian for dosage recommendations - This is crucial for optimal results. There are specific strands of probiotics that help with different things within the body, so getting the correct one for yourself is important in addition to the dose. Schedule your free 20 minute nutrition consultation with me here. 


Super Power Foods

Next we start talking about the foods that work in CONJUNCTION with the immune system. These foods are really cool. This is where I start to geek out (if I wasn't already before..) but certain foods have even MORE protective properties than just antioxidants alone.

The first I'm bringing to the forefront is GARLIC! 

Growing up I avoided garlic like the plague! It was an identified migraine trigger of mine in middle school and high school. However luckily I grew out of it as I say, so now I eat it every day!!

Garlic isn't just for Italian foods (or at least this is what I thought when I first started cooking). I started adding it to different types of dishes! 

Garlic doesn't just add a great taste profile but it bangs a punch when it comes to it's health benefits!

When I'm feeling my sinuses start to ache or if I start sneezing, I take some raw garlic in olive oil plus some ginger, lemon and local honey. Plug my nose and take a shot! It's harsh but it works great!

Garlic has anti-viral and antibacterial properties to it! (FOOD IS AMAZING)


Oregano has been one of those herbs I've loved growing because it's so easy to grow and really hard to kill! Which is a testimony to it's protective properties!!

Which is what antioxidants, flavanoids, and other protective properties to foods do... they PROTECT the plant from pests, the environment and even pesticides. This is why it's so cool for us to eat them too because their protective properties transfer to us. 

I feel like a #BOOM needs to be dropped here.

Oregano has anti-viral properties to it. I'll always grow it, it's out on the apartment patio now, and will always have it on hand in the form of oregano oil as well. Please see your doctor or someone who understands essential oils or at least specializes in certain ones before starting a new health regimen.


Next up is something new to me and my practice because there's simply that many different foods out there and well, I encourage to focus on a few. Master those and then move on. I practice what I preach because these are tools that I use for myself and family. 

Medicinal Mushrooms is the terminology these groups of mushrooms have been given by the science community and not myself. Even though food is medicine, I am not prescribing you this but simply bringing awareness to these different foods. 

 Just like the other foods we've talked about, mushrooms have different mechanism of actions within themselves too! They have to have antibacterial and antifungal properties to survive in their environment (7) when growing, just imagine what it can do for us! 

Medicinal Mushrooms: These are the mushrooms I use in my turmeric latte every morning. Use code NICOLE10 at checkout to save money.

Turmeric is another Super Power Food and the last one I'm mentioning on this post. There's more than what's mentioned in this blog but what I have in here I feel like are major influencers of the immune system and like with anything... we can't "Put all our eggs in basket". Meaning these tools that are mentioned here WORK TOGETHER.

With all that said - my turmeric latte is my favorite go to drink every morning! It's a pretty potent drink but my knee LOVES it. I've read that you need something along the lines of 16 TBSP of turmeric to reap the benefits but my knee tells me at 1TBSP a day it works... However, this could likely be due to my high anti-inflammatory diet in general, but will say I can tell when I don't drink my turmeric!

Turmeric is another super power food that blocks inflammation pathways (6). I'm talking MULTIPLE pathways!


Again to reiterate and drive this home even more, these foods work best when they come together CONSISTENTLY. Meaning you can't just count on dinner for your veggies and call it a win! It is for sure but what about breakfast and lunch?

It's time to AMPLIFY your diet with these amazing foods, but remember inflammation needs to be reduced for these foods to really shine!


We can use other tools to reduce inflammation that aren't foods. 

I really hope you learned a lot by reading this blog post! If you benefited from this, please take a moment to share this post with someone you think could benefit from it would be super helpful!

The more we can empower ourselves with tools, like these foods in this post, the better chance we have to be at our best! 

Another reminder that this post is not to treat or diagnose you, your family, your cousin Sue or to treat any ailments. This is intended to bring awareness to you of the science behind the foods we eat.


Nicole Eichinger 
Registered Dietitian

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