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Build a healthy immune system with good nutrition

By Elizabeth Hall, MS, RDN, LDN • Mar 18, 2020 at 6:45 PM

Good nutrition is critical throughout life for many reasons. One of these is to prevent acute and chronic illness. Several nutrients in foods build and support a healthy immune system, which helps to fight infection and keep you from getting sick. Here are a few key nutrients to focus on for immune health:


Amino acids found in various protein foods are an important part of your body’s defense against disease. Protein foods also contain the mineral zinc, which helps your wounds to heal. Eat a variety of protein sources each day such as lean meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and plant-based options like beans, peas, soy, nuts and seeds.


Beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, is found in many red and orange plant foods like sweet potatoes, carrots and red bell peppers as well as leafy greens like kale and spinach. Eggs as well as fortified foods like cereal and milk also contain some vitamin A. Vitamin A keeps your skin and tissues healthy, which is your body’s first defense against invading bacteria and viruses. Tissues line your mouth, digestive system and respiratory system, so keeping these tissues healthy keeps your immune system healthy as well.


Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that stimulates your body to produce antibodies against invaders, thereby boosting immunity. It is important to eat foods that are rich in vitamin C every day, even when you aren’t sick, to help prevent illness. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to get your vitamin C in. Half a cup of red bell pepper already contains over 100% of the daily recommended value for vitamin C, while one medium orange has close to 80%. Other vitamin C-rich products include citrus fruits like grapefruit and kiwifruit as well as strawberries, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.


Vitamin E is another antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radicals that we come in contact with. If these free radicals build up, they can contribute to the development of disease. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it is found in nuts, seeds and oils as well as spinach.

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