Choose Nutrient-rich Foods for Greater Immunity

By Amy O’Reilly

Eating nourishing foods not only brings enjoyment and spice to life, but it’s also how your body gets vitamins. Making good choices will boost your immunity and support your overall health and well-being, especially as you age.

During National Nutrition Month in March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that you “personalize your plate” to include vitamin- and mineral-rich foods you need.

These general guidelines from the dietitians at St. Ann’s Community can help.

Choose fresh
Fill half your plate with bright and colorful fruits and vegetables. Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, strawberries and red bell peppers contain vitamins A and C to support a healthy immune system.

Green salad topped with almonds and avocado will provide high vitamin E levels, which acts as an antioxidant to neutralize harmful free radicals that can damage cells and cause illness.

Eating high protein foods such as poultry, seafood, and beans high in zinc and rich in vitamin B12 helps produce new immune cells and keep blood and nerve cells healthy.

Salmon, trout, mushrooms and fortified items such as milk, orange juice and cereals provide vitamin D to keep bones and muscles healthy and strong, including your heart. Vitamin D also helps your immune system fight off bacteria and viruses.

To receive the maximum nutritional value of what you eat, choose fresh foods whenever possible. Frozen or canned foods with reduced sodium or no salt added are healthy alternatives, too.

Pickup or delivery
Most local grocery stores provide delivery or curbside pickup. If weather and pandemic restrictions make travel difficult, subscribe to an online grocery or meal kit service like Misfits Market or Hello Fresh to add fresh foods to your plate.

Supplement when necessary
When your diet doesn’t provide all the vitamins you need, vitamin supplements can help you make up the difference. This is especially important as the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals lessens with age.

Your doctor can order a simple blood test to identify which supplements you need and check to ensure they won’t interfere with your medications.

For example, people aged 51–70 require 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day and 800 IU for those over 70 years of age. While your body produces vitamin D with help from the sun, needing a supplement to meet these requirements is common during Rochester winters.

The dietitians at St. Ann’s Community recommend vitamin D supplements labeled “D3” or cholecalciferol, which you should take with nutritious high-fat foods like nuts to help with absorption. Also, any multivitamin you take should include at least 400 IU of vitamin D.

Preparing healthy meals that support your body type, cultural background and tastes is a daily act of self-care that can make a major difference in your quality of life. So, stay away from labeling foods as good or bad and enjoy! When your plate includes enough nutrient-rich foods, treating yourself to dessert is a just reward!


Amy O’Reilly is a registered dietitian nutritionist at St. Ann’s Community. Contact her at aoreilly@mystanns.com or visit stannscommunity. com.

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