If you're keen to stay free of coughs and colds, it's difficult to know how to best protect yourself. Does it really help to stock up on super-strength vitamins? What about all the old wives' tales about bizarre food concoctions that are said to ward off symptoms?


The truth is that the natural function of a healthy immune system is the best defence against the common cold. While it's no guarantee that you won't succumb to sniffles or a sore throat, eating a balanced and varied diet that includes plenty of fruit and veg will ensure you're getting all the vital micronutrients that your immune system needs to work effectively.

Our Healthy Diet Plans are designed to help support your immune system by giving you five of your five-a-day (or even more), plus the nutrients that you need daily. If you haven't already, sign up today to receive free online access to the plan.

Nutritionist Kerry Torrens shares her three top tips to support the natural function of the immune system, plus how the recipes from our latest Healthy Diet Plan can help you achieve your goal.

Discover more bonus content from our experts, designed to help you feel your best. Find out how to feel more energetic, cut back on sugar and support your immunity.

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Five tips for supporting your immune system

1. Top up your vitamin D

Puy lentils with seared salmon fillets and veg

It's less of a concern when the sun's out, but when there's less of it, levels of vitamin D (the 'sunshine vitamin') are likely to be low. This vitamin is important for immune function, so try to include food sources regularly in your diet. Useful options include eggs, mushrooms and oily fish like salmon. Try the puy lentils with seared salmon in our latest 7-day Healthy Diet Plan.

Read more about why we need vitamin D.

2. Eat onions and garlic

Butterbean curry with brown rice and chunky raita

Onions, garlic and chives not only add flavour to dishes, they also contain potent oils that have anti-microbial properties. The health benefits of onions and garlic make them a great addition to a balanced diet. We've included these ingredients throughout our Healthy Diet Plan, including our butterbean curry with raita.

3. Choose nourishing foods

Harissa veg stew with quinoa and coconut yogurt

There is some evidence to suggest that a diet with too many calories and refined sugar can impair the immune system – yet another reason to limit your intake of sugar, alcohol and highly processed carbs. All our Healthy Diet Plan recipes aim to steer clear of refined, processed products and instead focus on nourishing ingredients, healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates. Give it a go with our harissa vegetable stew with quinoa and coconut yogurt.

4. Eat healthy fats

Deconstructed guacamole with tomato and lime

Omega-3 fats are essential for many aspects of health including immune cell production. Make sure you're eating enough by adding oily fish to your diet, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines and trout. If you're vegetarian or vegan be sure to include plant sources like chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts. Enjoy our deconstructed guacamole for a snack that's packed full of good fats.

Get the facts on all types of fat and find out the top sources of omega-3.

5. Support your gut

Cinnamon porridge with baked bananas

There are trillions of bacteria in our gut, these help our body to digest food, maintain balance and stay healthy and well. In fact, more than 70% of our immune defences lie in the lining of our gut, so it's essential to include gut-friendly foods in our diet if we want to fight off colds and infection.

Including probiotic foods like live yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and apple cider vinegar can help to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Start your day with a bowl of warm cinnamon porridge with baked bananas, you'll benefit from the oats and bio yogurt.

Discover the top probiotics foods you should be eating, plus more on gut health and what it really means.

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All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. Any Healthy Diet Plan featured by BBC Good Food is provided as a suggestion of a general balanced diet and should not be relied upon to meet specific dietary requirements. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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