Healthy Habits for Immune Support

Taylor Willhite, South Dakota State University Extension

December 22, 2023

Many factors play into keeping us free from sickness, it is no secret that eating a well-balanced diet helps keep us healthy by supporting our immune system. Keeping our immune system strong is especially important during cold and flu season. Eating a regular diet that includes the following nutrients can help our bodies fight off sickness by keeping our immune system strong.

Immune-Boosting Nutrients

  • Protein: Protein builds and repairs our body’s tissues and plays an important role in building the cells that power our immune system. Several good sources of protein are eggs, lean meat, seafood, beans, and soy products.
  • Vitamin A: Vitamin A keeps our skin and tissues healthy, which helps protect against infections. Examples of foods with vitamin A are sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, carrots, red bell peppers, eggs, or foods labeled as “Vitamin A fortified.”
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is well-known for aiding in the prevention of sickness, which it does by stimulating the production of antibodies. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, and in a variety of other fruits and vegetables, such as red bell peppers, strawberries, tomato juice, and foods fortified with Vitamin C.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight, which we often don’t get enough of during the winter months in South Dakota. Not getting enough vitamin D can increase our susceptibility to illnesses. Examples of dietary sources of Vitamin D include oily fish, such as salmon, and dairy products, such as milk.
  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E protects our bodies from damage and helps keep our immune system strong. Several good sources of Vitamin E are sunflower oil, nuts, seeds, spinach, broccoli, and fortified grains products, such as breakfast cereal.
  • Zinc: Zinc aids in wound healing and, like Vitamins A, C, and E, it is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory actions. Examples of zinc sources include meat, seafood, whole grain products, seeds, nuts, and beans.
  • Probiotics and Prebiotics: Probiotics and prebiotics help train our body’s immune cells on which bacteria are good and bad. Good bacteria in the gut can help reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a defense mechanism the body performs to remove harmful and foreign bacteria. If our bodies are on defense for too long, they can become worn down, resulting in a weakened immune system. A few sources of pro and prebiotics include Greek yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir.

Eating Patterns and Lifestyle

Eating 1 to 4 cups of vegetables and 1 to 3 cups of fruit each day, in addition to consuming whole grains, protein, and healthy fats will help keep our immune systems functioning at their best! For age-adjusted recommended intakes for each food group, check out MyPlate.

We can make other lifestyle changes to help boost our immune systems in addition to eating a healthy diet. Check out our article, Boost Your Immunity with Simple Lifestyle Changes, to learn more.

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