NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Nourishing Your Immune System

Nourishing Your Immune System


                Winter has definitely arrived! And with it a wide range of colds, flu, sniffles and other cold weather associated health concerns.  One of the best strategies for avoiding an everlasting winter cold is to have a healthy immune system.  And consuming a healthful diet is one of the best strategies for having a healthy immune system!

                Research has shown some nutrients, including protein, and certain vitamins and minerals, have specific roles in immune health. If we lack any of these nutrients, our ability to fight infection can decrease.

                Protein is found in every cell, tissue and organ in our bodies. When we do not get enough protein, our bodies may produce less of certain immune cells and increase our susceptibility to infections of the respiratory, gastrointestinal and urinary tract. Protein foods include chicken, beef, pork, fish, eggs, peanut butter, milk, seeds, beans and nuts.  Adult women age 19 and older should get about 46 grams (g) of protein per day and adult men should get about 56 g per day. Check out the table below to see how many grams of protein are found in certain foods.


Protein Content of Selected Foods

24 g

3 ounces lean beef

22 g

3 ounces salmon, tuna or halibut

16 g

3 ounces lean chicken

15 g

1 cup black beans

14 g

1 cup plain non-fat yogurt

9 g

1 ounce nonfat mozzarella cheese

8 g

1 cup milk

6 g

1 ounce almonds (about 23)

6 g

1 large egg


                Antioxidants include Vitamins A, C, D and E plus Selenium. Vitamin A keeps the skin and tissues of the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy. These tissues serve as our first line of defense against infection. Food Sources for Vitamin A include carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, red bell peppers and eggs.  Vitamin C helps with the formation of antibodies and the production of certain immune cells. Food sources for Vitamin C include oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, kiwi, tomato juice and foods fortified with vitamin C, such as some cereals.

           Vitamin E protects cell membranes in the body. Sunflower seeds, almonds, and oils such as sunflower and safflower oil are food sources for Vitamin E. Selenium is a mineral found in the soil. We get selenium from the animals and plants we eat.


           The best way to get vitamin D is to absorb it from the sun. Unfortunately, for the states in the northern part of the U.S., the sun is only strong enough for our bodies to absorb vitamin D from March to October. Milk, oily fish such as tuna and salmon, mushrooms, breads, yogurt and orange juice are all excellent sources of Vitamin D.


               To have a healthy, strong immune system, we need to focus on being healthy overall. Here are a few lifestyle factors that can impact your immune health.

Exercise: Participate in regular physical activity. Regular activity can benefit your entire body by helping you maintain a healthy body weight. Exercise also can keep you in good health, which allows your immune system to work properly. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of activity a day three to five times per week.

Manage stress: Certain types of stress can weaken our immune system and make us more susceptible to infection. Get enough sleep, manage your blood pressure and focus on leading a healthy lifestyle. Sleep deprivation can depress the immune system’s disease-fighting power by reducing the production of T cells.

Limit alcohol: Alcohol is one substance that can suppress our immune system. If you do drink, drink in moderation. Moderation is defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

Take steps to avoid infection: Wash your hands frequently. Practice food safety when preparing food at home to reduce the spread of bacteria. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. Cook meat and seafood thoroughly, and keep raw and cooked foods separate.

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