Food: The First Line of Defense in Your Health

By Amanda Benson, RDN
Happy couple cooking healthy food in kitchen at home - Vitality

With flu season in full effect and endless colds going around, you may find yourself relying on hand washing, medications and even supplements* to protect against and treat illness. While those certainly play a role and are important strategies, people often overlook one of the most crucial factors in supporting their immune system … FOOD!

Fueling your body with wholesome, nutritious foods is your best bet in preventing illness, protecting against disease, and promoting good health. Follow these general guidelines to turn yourself into a lean, mean sickness-fighting machine.

Have more of these:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Include at least one fruit and/or veggie with each meal and snack. Keep frozen options on hand for when fresh isn’t available.
  • Lean protein: These can come from both animal (fish, poultry, eggs) and plant (beans, nuts, seeds) based options.
  • Whole grains: Think oats, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, whole wheat and others which are higher in fiber and other essential nutrients than their refined counterparts.
  • Water: A general rule of thumb is to aim for at least half of your body weight in ounces of water each day (for a 150-pound person that’s 75 ounces).

And less of these:

  • Refined sugars: from things like sweetened drinks, processed foods, and dessert
  • Fried foods and those high in saturated or trans-fat: These are the unhealthy fats that are solid at room temperature and often found in animal products, full-fat dairy and processed foods.
  • Alcohol in moderation: This means no more than 1 to 2 drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women. One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Maybe give sober October a try!

Set yourself up for success:

  • Plan your meals and snacks for the week: If you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen. Look at your week ahead to account for nights when you won’t have time to cook. Plan for leftovers and some healthy, convenient options you can throw together in a pinch. Once you have your meals and snacks mapped out, create a shopping list from there and stick to it! Your health and your wallet will thank you. Check out my meal planning tips.
  • Invest in a large reusable water bottle and keep it with you at all times: Based on the size, figure out how many times you would need to refill it to meet your daily quota. Stainless steel is a great sustainable option that will also help keep it cold. Quench your thirst for some hydration tips here.
  • Allow yourself to indulge from time to time: If you always deny yourself of the foods you love, you give them power and control over you. You obsess over them and likely binge when you try to have just a small amount. Instead, give yourself permission to indulge every now and then, just be mindful of how they make you feel.

Other factors that contribute to a healthy immune system are things like sleep, stress and exercise … but more on those another day.

*There are times when vitamin or mineral supplements may be appropriate, especially if you’re deficient in a specific nutrient. In these instances, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider first. Read more about whether supplements should be part of your daily health routine.

Additional resource

Amanda Benson is a Registered Dietitian and Wellness Strategy Manager with Vitality. She received her BS in nutrition at Michigan State University and completed her dietetic internship at the Medical University of South Carolina. When she’s not chasing around her two young children, she enjoys relaxing with a hot cup of coffee, running, attending concerts with her husband and wine nights with girlfriends.

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