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Tips to keep your immune system healthy year-round.

By Janet Milner, RDN

A healthy immune system is one way to protect your body from getting sick. The stronger it is, the better it can fight off viruses. One key aspect of building your immune system is focusing on nutrient-rich foods and healthy lifestyle behaviors to help you stay ahead of the germs.

Focus on balance

To help keep your immune system healthy all year long, focus on a balanced eating plan, adequate sleep and stress management.

Aim for five to seven servings of vegetables and fruits daily to get vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that may support immune health. The federal government’s MyPlate concept suggests filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables.

Nutrients to support your immune system

In a balanced diet that supports your immune system, you’ll want to include some key nutrients, all which can be found in a variety of foods.

These nutrients can help give your immune system a boost:

  • Beta carotene is found in plant foods such as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, mango, broccoli and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli. 
  • Vitamin D is found in fatty fish and eggs. Milk and 100% juices that are fortified with vitamin D are also sources of this important nutrient.
  • Zinc tends to be better absorbed from animal sources such as beef and seafood, but is also in vegetarian sources such as wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu.
  • Probiotics are “good” bacteria that promote health. Cultured dairy products such as yogurt and fermented foods such as kimchi are a good source of probiotics.
  • Protein comes from both animal and plant-based sources, such as milk, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.

Remember to wash produce before eating or using in recipes, and to clean your meal preparation area before and after using. Paired with good hygiene and handwashing, you can help prevent the spread of germs and from getting sick.

What about herbal supplements and vitamins?

Many herbal remedies are marketed to help fight respiratory illnesses or shorten their duration, but check with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements or medications. No single food or supplement can prevent illness.

Vitamin C is popularly believed to prevent or shorten the duration of illnesses like the common cold. But the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says there’s no evidence that vitamin C, even in high doses, will keep you from being infected by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In fact, they say “high doses can cause several side effects, including nausea, cramps, and an increased risk of kidney stones.” 

It’s best to get your vitamin C through foods rich in it. Vitamin C-rich foods include: 

  • Oranges
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Berries
  • Melons
  • Bell peppers 
  • Tomatoes

Probiotics are available in supplement form, as well, but don’t take them if you have a compromised immune system.

Aside from boosting your immune system, of course, eating right supports all your body’s other systems, too — plus it can help you lose weight and feel good. So make that next trip to the grocery store count!

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Janet Milner, RDN
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Learn more about good nutrition when you're sick