March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system, which may offer protection from seasonal illness such as the flu and other health problems including arthritis, allergies, abnormal cell development and cancers. Help protect yourself against infection and boost your immunity by including these nutrients in your eating plan.
Protein is part of the body's defense mechanism. Eat a variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds.
Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protects from infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy. Get this immune-boosting vitamin from foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs or foods labeled "vitamin A fortified," such as milk or cereal.
Vitamin C protects you from infection by stimulating the formation of antibodies and boosting immunity. Include more of this healthy vitamin in your diet with citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, or red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice or foods fortified with vitamin C, such as some cereals.
Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, neutralizes free radicals and may improve immune function. Include vitamin E in your diet with fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts, peanut butter or spinach.
Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans and nuts.
Other nutrients, including vitamin B6, folate, selenium, iron, as well as prebiotics and probiotics, also may influence immune response.