Fueling the immune system

Pomegranates, oranges, and grapefruits cut in half
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This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Kristi Brougher. 

Have you ever heard the saying, “you are what you eat”? Well, this can be true. What you eat can play a role in the health of your body. Now more than ever, we are all looking for ways to improve our health and boost our immune systems. Fortunately, certain foods can help to achieve this goal.

Foods that contain vitamin A have been found to enhance the immune system. Vitamin A is found naturally in many foods and is added to some foods, such as milk and cereal. You can get the recommended amounts of vitamin A by eating a variety of foods like green leafy vegetables and other vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots. Fruits, including mangos and apricots, also contain vitamin A.

Vitamin C is commonly known for its role in supporting the immune system. Though it may not keep you from catching a cold or other virus, there is evidence that it may decrease the amount of time you experience symptoms. Sources of vitamin C are abundant and exist in more foods than just orange juice. Tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, green and red bell peppers all are great sources of vitamin C. It’s important to mention that some amounts of vitamin C can be lost when the food is heated or stored for an extended period of time. It’s best to enjoy these foods as soon as possible or choose a cooking method such as steaming or microwaving to avoid nutrient loss.

Research has found that vitamin D is one of the most important immune system-strengthen nutrients. The easiest way to get vitamin D is to go outside. Hence why many people refer to vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin. However, due to varying climates and the pigmentation of our skin, this method is not always the best. We can get vitamin D through food sources such as fatty fish like salmon, egg yolks, dairy products, and fortified cereals.

Food is not the only way to improve your immune system. Adding in at least 15-30 minutes of physical activity a day has shown to support your body’s immune system.

It’s important to note that there is no such thing as a magic food or one healthy lifestyle behavior that can prevent illness. The next time you’re feeling a bit under the weather or are looking for ways to improve your immune system, try engaging in a variety of healthy lifestyle behaviors.


PHOTO CREDIT: Luke Michael via Unsplash

Matheus Da Silveira, “Physical Exercise as a Tool to Help the Immune System against COVID-19”, 2020
Marisa Moore, “How Vitamin C Support a Healthy Immune System, 2021
Harvard School of Public Health, “Vitamin D”, 2020