Beginning with our youngest students in our early childhood classrooms, an emphasis on wholesome and nutritious snacks and meals are a part of our culture. In kindergarten, each day we share a family-style meal with the children helping to prepare the food (like our much loved vegetable soup recipe here), set the table, and wash up afterwards. We practice gratitude, intention of preparation, and come to understand the source of our food. Nutritious real food that contributes to our children’s well-being and development is essential. We are grateful to have Carla Abate, a DWS parent and community member as well as a certified master nutrition therapist, share her wisdom below once again for our community – this time, on immune support as we head into the winter season!

Immune Support for Greater School Attendance

COVID has prompted many of us to take a deeper look at our daily habits, particularly those involving nutrition that do, or do not, support robust immune function. When we keep immune health in mind, our kids miss less days of school and do not get behind on their schoolwork. This is true for parents too! Less sick days for our kids, often translates to less days off of work for us as parents. Whole foods have been designed by nature to provide us with what we need to get through times of illness. Vitamin C for example, is a potent antioxidant that increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies to fight infection. While vitamin A facilitates the formation of the oral, respiratory, and gastrointestinal mucosal linings that are our first defense against pathogens. Let’s take a closer look at some of these immune warriors.


Antioxidants help fight off inflammation caused by bacteria or viruses. These are what give plant foods their color and flavor. Often referred to as polyphenols, phytonutrients, or flavonoids, these components of fruits and vegetables are capable of deactivating free radicals that cause inflammation. Foods rich in vitamins A, C, E, and the minerals zinc and selenium are some of the more common antioxidants. To obtain these, integrate the following foods:

  • Vitamin A – egg yolks, dairy, oily fish
  • Carotenoids (precursor to vitamin A) – carrots, cantaloupe, tomato and sweet potato
  • Vitamin C – bell peppers, citrus fruit, broccoli and strawberries
  • Vitamin E – sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin and leafy greens
  • Selenium – various animal sources (poultry, dairy, fish and eggs), oatmeal, brown rice, spinach and sunflower deeds
  • Zinc – red meat, shellfish, legumes, cashews and sesame seeds


Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that we host in our guts and other areas of the body that set the stage for a healthy microbiome by keeping unwelcome microbes in check. These microscopic allies perform many tasks that we take for granted such as:

  • Extracting nutrients from the food we eat
  • Synthesizing certain nutrients such as vitamin K
  • Producing short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), essential to colon health
  • Training and communicating with the immune system

While more research is needed to explain the mechanisms involved in many of these operations, it is well-established that gut bacteria play a major role in immune function. This relationship begins at birth and indicates that both the microbiome and immune system evolved together.


Prebiotics are what feed the healthy bacteria and promote their proliferation. These include fermentable fibers, resistant starches, and complex carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides, all of which can be found in many common plant sources with which we are familiar. Similarly, bacteria generally considered pathogenic also have fuel preferences, tending to favor refined sugars and starches. This illustrates the very relevant role that food plays in shaping the gut ecology and thus its impact on immune function.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is actually a hormone. In addition to its well-established role in bone and calcium regulation, it is also a significant modulator of the immune response, with vitamin D receptors present on many types of immune cells. It acts as such, by inhibiting certain immune cells and the subsequent production of inflammatory chemicals (cytokines), promoting instead the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals essential to immune tolerance.

This hormone is best produced from the interaction between the UVB rays of the sun and the cholesterol under the skin. However, the skin should be exposed without sunscreen for at least 15-30 minutes a few times per week. And since absorption varies depending on other factors, such as how much skin is exposed, and proximity to the equator, it may be best to include foods naturally rich in vitamin D (or fortified for vegetarians/vegans).

Key immune-boosting nutrients to include daily:

  • Vitamin D – oily fish and egg yolks are a couple of the only foods that make vitamin D naturally
  • Zinc-animal – based foods like beef, eggs, and dairy; nuts and seeds, especially sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • Vitamin C – bell peppers, citrus fruits, and broccoli
  • Probiotics – probiotic foods include fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, sourdough bread and miso
  • Prebiotics – prebiotic foods include avocado, chia, asparagus, root veggies, cocoa and onion
  • Vitamin A – dark green and deep orange veggies are high in beta-carotene a precursor to active vitamin A- for optimal absorption lightly cook with fat as vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin; animal-based sources provide active vitamin A (eggs, fortified dairy, and liver)

Keeping it simple……

Routinely eating a variety of whole foods is the best approach to obtaining the above immune-boosting nutrients. This promotes diversity of the microbiome which is associated with lowered disease risk!

About Carla Abate

Carla Abate is a family wellness educator and advocate for the importance of nutrition during the perinatal stages. She is a certified master nutrition therapist (MNT) and postpartum doula. Her experience with pregnancy and entry into motherhood helped inspire what she does today. With motherhood came self-growth, inspiration, and courage. It also brought great challenge forcing her to dive deep into her own wellness journey. Today, it’s Carla‘s mission to help other mothers (and their families) flourish throughout pregnancy and well beyond.

Find out more at or on instagram @rebelrootsnutrition or contact Carla directly at