“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

I’m sure we’ve all heard this old saying countless times, especially as our parents coaxed us into eating more fruits and veggies growing up.

It might sound dated or corny, but what if I told you that this old saying holds some truth? With flu season in full swing and COVID-19 still present, lots of us are looking to boost our immune systems.

One of the greatest fuels for a strong immune system is a healthy, well-balanced diet. While there are no magical “superfoods” that can fend off every illness, there are certain nutrients and food groups that play a huge role in keeping our immune system in tip-top shape.

Here are the top recommendations for boosting your immunity this season:

Eat enough

Weight loss is a popular New Year’s resolution for many, but let’s pump the brakes before hopping on any fad diet trains. Many fad diets encourage individuals to restrict their food intake significantly or cut out entire food groups to lose weight. Doing so can deprive your body of the energy and nutrients it desperately needs and even lead to a weakened immune system. If you have a weight loss goal this year, focus on making small, maintainable changes. Try being more physically active, eating more fruits and veggies, drinking more water, and cooking at home more often rather than choosing fad diets. Your immune system will thank you!

Eat the rainbow

And no, I’m not talking about Skittles. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, and other nutrients that protect our cells from damage, maintain our skin’s strong barrier against viruses and bacteria, reduce inflammation, and more. Different colors of fruits and vegetables offer different health benefits, so it’s best to eat a variety of colors to maintain a strong immune system. Consider challenging yourself to eat multiple colors of fruits and vegetables each day or, if that’s too easy, multiple colors at each meal!

Make room for protein

Not only does protein fuel the production of the white blood cells and antibodies that defend us against pathogens, but protein-rich foods are also a great source of selenium and zinc, both of which have disease-fighting properties. Meet your body’s protein needs through lean cuts of meat and poultry; fish; low-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt, cottage cheese; beans and peas; nuts and seeds; and soy-based foods like tofu and edamame.

Focus on healthy fats

You might be thinking, “Did this dietitian just say fat is healthy?” I sure did! While not all fats are created equal, some reduce inflammation and help your immune system function at top capacity. Fish such as tuna and salmon have healthy fats, as do olive, canola, and safflower oils; nuts; and seeds.

Get adequate vitamin D

In addition to building strong bones, vitamin D helps build a robust immune system. Research has shown that those with low vitamin D levels are more likely to get infections. Vitamin D is in dairy products, fish like salmon and tuna, and fortified juices and cereals. Commonly called the “sunshine vitamin,” one of the best ways to get your vitamin D is from spending time outdoors in the sun! Vitamin supplementation may be recommended if you do not get enough from your diet and sun exposure. For more guidance, contact your healthcare provider.

As Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” While it’s clear that eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can boost your immune system, don’t forget the importance of a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, as well!

Take supporting your immune system a step further by making exercise a regular part of your routine, getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and prioritizing self-care to reduce stress.

By following and maintaining these diet and lifestyle changes, you’ll be supporting your immune system, not just this season but all year long!

Lexi Wright, RDN, LD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at the Owensboro Health Healthpark.


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