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Healthy Habits for Immune Support

Updated March 18, 2020

Megan Erickson

SDSU Extension Nutrition Field Specialist

A green shield icon with a white cross in front of a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Written by Taylor Willhite under the direction and review of Megan Erickson.

Many factors play into keeping us free from sickness. It is no secret that eating a well-balanced diet helps to keep us healthy by supporting our immune system. Keeping our immune system strong is especially important during cold and flu season. Regularly eating a diet that includes these nutrients can help your body to fight off sickness by keeping your immune system strong:

  • Protein builds and repairs our body’s tissues and plays an important role in building the cells that power our immune systems. Protein is found in eggs, lean meat, seafood, beans, and soy products. 
  • Vitamin A keeps our skin and tissues healthy which helps protect against infections. Get vitamin A from sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, carrots, red bell peppers, eggs, or foods labeled as “vitamin A fortified.” 
  • Vitamin C is well known for aiding in the prevention of sickness, which it does by stimulating the production of antibodies. Vitamin C is in citrus fruits such as oranges, and in a variety of other fruits and vegetables, including red bell pepper, strawberries, tomato juice, and foods fortified with vitamin C. 
  • Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight, which we often don’t get enough of during the winter months here in South Dakota. Not getting enough vitamin D can increase your susceptibility to illnesses. Dietary sources of vitamin D are found in oily fish, such as salmon, and dairy products, such as milk. Consider having your vitamin D blood levels tested if you suspect that you might be deficient.
  • Vitamin E protects our body from damage and helps keep our immune system strong. Vitamin E is found in sunflower oil, nuts, seeds, spinach, broccoli, and fortified grains products, such as breakfast cereal. 
  • Zinc aids in wound healing and like vitamins A, C, and E, is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory actions. Zinc is found in meat, seafood, whole grain products, seeds, nuts, and beans.

Eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, in addition to consuming whole grains, protein and healthy fats will help you keep your immune system functioning at its best!

In addition to good nutrition, getting plenty of sleep and being physically active are also important. Aim to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night to keep your immune system in fighting shape. Adults should also exercise at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. In general, try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day to keep you feeling and performing your best! Lastly, when it comes to preventing illness, practicing good hand hygiene goes a long way. Remember to frequently wash your hands with soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds.

Related Topics

Health, Nutrition