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immunity 101

Fall is in the air. Can you smell it? While fall is by far my favorite season, I can’t help but recognize its trusty sidekicks… the cold + flu.

As a functional dietitian, I look at this time of transition from summer to fall from two angles. On the traditional side, it is a time to strip away the unnecessary, both in life and in food. As summer vacation comes to an end and your kids go back to school this is the perfect time to set new routines and rhythms that create balance, consistency and ease in your daily life.

On the clinical side, it’s a time to focus on nourishing the body with the elements needed to strengthen the body’s defense system.

Before we dive into the checklist of what to do before you are exposed to an immune system challenge let’s first look at what the immune system IS.




The immune system is an intricate network of specialized cells, each with a unique role in fighting infection. Everything from colds, to inflammation or cancer prevention relies upon the immune system. The different types of immune system cells act as tiny soldiers, battling foreign invaders to keep your body healthy. Some of these cells act as intelligence scouts searching for danger and alerting the rest of your body when danger is encountered. Other cells act as front-line combatants, responding to these signals and attacking foreign invaders.

The regulation of immunity depends on cell communication. There are literally thousands of biochemical processes that occur on every single cell, every second! Our immune system cells create a series of signals that tell the body to ramp up the immune response. These cells also signal when the coast is clear and the immune response can be resolved.

Just like any other army, our tiny immunity soldiers need ammunition to fight. And that ammunition is food. Without a rich supply of key nutrients to nourish and support the immune system, a breakdown is likely to happen.

Listed below are 5 of my favorite foods to weave into family meals to defend and protect the intricacies of the immune system.




1. Probiotic-rich foods keep the gut bacteria healthy and in balance. Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on the large intestine during the fall season for good reason. The gut and the bacteria that resides within it a key fortification for your body’s defense system. Beneficial bacteria like those found in probiotic-rich foods help create a physical barrier along the digestive tract and also crowd out harmful bacteria before they can multiply. Rotate kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir and kombucha into your diet to reap these GI strengthening benefits. Click HERE to see how different probiotic-rich foods rank in order of potency.

2. Vitamin D deficiency is implicated in a number of chronic illnesses and it plays a significant role in immunity. I encourage most of my clients to get their vitamin D levels checked by their doctors and if low consider supplementing with D3. This goes for your kids too! Your body makes vitamin D from the sun, but during the winter months it becomes a challenge to get enough sun, especially if you live in a northern hemisphere. Cod liver oil, mushrooms, fish [like salmon and sardines], and egg yolks are great ways to get vitamin D in your diet.

3. Speaking of mushrooms, it turns out certain mushrooms might just be “magical” when it comes to the immune system. Because fungi grow in challenging circumstances, they specialize in producing antibiotic and various antiviral compounds. There are multiple strains of mushrooms each with a defined “super power” as outlined below. Each attribute ties closely back to the impact mushrooms have on your immune system. Unfortunately, not all are useable in a culinary setting making companies like Host Defense and Foursigmatic great assets to ensure the mushrooms are both palatable and accessible [for adults and children alike!]. • Chaga: antioxidant support, warding off immune system attacks • Cordyceps: energy and physical performance • Reishi: stress and sleep • Lion’s Mane: brain power + nervous system support • Shiitake: immune system stimulation

4. Ginger root is a warming, anti-inflammatory spice used in traditional Asian cooking. The active compounds in ginger – gingerols and shogaols – have powerful anti-microbial properties that can create a negative environment for viruses and bacteria to multiply. Sip ginger tea, add fresh ginger to smoothies or use it to add flavor to dressings, marinades and stir fries. Aim to weave generous amounts of ginger into your week the first few weeks of school.

5. Garlic is truly an immune-boosting superstar. And I don’t say that lightly. It contains the active molecule allicin, which helps us to fight off infection and bacteria. In addition, it contains a sulfur compound (also found in egg yolks, onions, and cruciferous vegetables) that has been shown to enhance the activity of defense cells, creating a stronger immune response. When you are using a recipe that calls for garlic simply double the amount listed to ensure you and your family experience a “punch” of protection.

REFERENCES: Mischke, M. (n.d.). An Ayurvedic Guide to a Soothing and Stable Fall Season | Banyan Botanicals. Retrieved September 13, 2018, from Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the Immune System. Journal of Investigative Medicine : The Official Publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, 59(6), 881–886. Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. Journal of Immunology Research, 2015, 401630. Immune adaptations that maintain homeostasis with the intestinal microbiota | Nature Reviews Immunology. (n.d.). Retrieved September 9, 2018, from Semwal, R. B., Semwal, D. K., Combrinck, S., & Viljoen, A. M. (2015). Gingerols and shogaols: Important nutraceutical principles from ginger. Phytochemistry, 117, 554–568. The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2018, from


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