Ten essential vitamins and minerals for a healthy immune system this year

It is tricky fitting plenty of vitamins and minerals into your day-to-day life but small diet changes can massively support immune function over winter

Man is about to put a vitamin pill in his mouth as he holds a glass of water in his other hand
(Image credit: Getty)

As winter approaches, seasonal colds are lingering around the corner, and if there's one thing we learned from the unfolding of COVID-19 last year, it's how to arm our immune systems better in order to fight against viruses. 

You may already be taking daily supplements such as the best vitamins for women over 50, which can be good for building a healthy gut and microbiome when you don’t get certain vitamins from the foods you eat. But scientists have found you can do more to improve your immune function and fight against cold and flu this winter. 

A research review commissioned by Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) suggests that no less than 10 different nutrients are essential for a healthy immune system. Analysing data from over 70 studies, the researchers concluded what vitamins teens, young adults and elderly people aren’t getting enough of. 

The results suggest they should aim to consume more of the following vitamins:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • B complex
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Copper
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

The lead author of the study and nutritionist, Dr Pam Mason, stated that nutrition has a significant impact on immune function. 

“Studies show clearly that people with a good nutritional status – who have the recommended amounts of nutrients in their diets – fare better in terms of resisting viral infections, recovering quicker, and experiencing less severe illness,” she added, “In contrast, studies show that people with a poor nutritional status and low intake of immune-supporting nutrients are worse off.”

Women is sat on sofa blowing her nose with a tissue

(Image credit: Getty)

However, you can avoid a "poor nutritional status" and the resulting health complications with a few small dietary changes. A study conducted in May found that people, especially women, who regularly consumed multivitamins, vitamin D, omega-3 fats and probiotics, had a lower risk of contracting the coronavirus infection. This comes at a time where women are now getting less vitamin A, vitamin B2, folate, iron, and zinc than they did a decade ago, according to the HSIS study.

UK GP, Dr Gill Jenkins from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service, told Fit&Well, “Eating a balanced diet, including foods rich in vitamins and minerals, like vegetables, wholegrains, fish and eggs is essential but according to government data most of us, whatever our age, are simply not consuming the nutrients we need from our diet.”

Dr Jenkins says that people can bridge these gaps and help their immune system by taking a daily multivitamin and multimineral supplement, together with an omega-3 supplement.

Our best fish oil supplements guide will help you find the best option for you to increase your omega-3 intake. Nutrient-rich food, some of which Jenkins mentioned above, should also be cooked in a healthy way; for example, on the grill rather than frying or roasting in lots of fatty oil and butter (and you can check out our list of the best health grill entries here). 

Maximising the amount of vitamins and minerals you get in your daily diet will make you less dependent on taking additional supplements.

Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 

When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.