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Healthy Holiday Eating To Boost Your Immune System

Amy Long Carrera, MS, RD, CNSC, CWCMS
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
12/16/11  8:13 PM PST
Healthy Holiday Eating

Your immune response is how your body protects itself from illness caused by bacteria and viruses in our environment. Nutrition plays a big role in your body’s ability to defend you against invaders that can make you sick. Strengthen your immune system by eating nutritious foods that can keep you healthy and well.


Bacteria can be good for you. Researchers published a study in which children experienced reduced fever, runny nose, cough and sick days when they took Lactobacillus acidophilus, compared to placebo. In another study, seniors who drank Lactobacillus milk shaved twenty percent off the duration of winter colds.

Holiday plan: Plain yogurt instead of sour cream on your baked potato.

Vitamin A

One raw carrot provides 175 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A, which helps reinforce the lining of your respiratory tract to protect you from infection. Colorful fruits and vegetables are good sources of carotenoids, which your body converts to vitamin A.

A-list holiday foods: pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are part of immune cell membranes, and help regulate the immune response. Polyunsaturated fatty acids include both omega-3 and omega-6 fats. To get your daily dose of these healthy fats, choose a variety of nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, fish and seafood.

Healthy Holiday fats: pecans, cooking with olive oil


Lack of adequate dietary protein increases your susceptibility to infection, by reducing proteins in your blood that attack viruses and bacteria. Consume lean meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Nuts, seeds, soy and beans are also good sources. Aim for 50 to 60 grams of lean protein daily to meet the recommended dietary allowance for this macronutrient.

Holiday protein sources: turkey, ham, chestnuts, Tofurkey


Critical for immune function, your body requires iron to mount a defense against invading pathogens, says the Linus Pauling Institute. Eat a varied diet that includes lean red meat and chicken, oysters and tofu. You can also get iron from black strap molasses, raisins, fortified cereals, prune juice and beans. Males over the age of 18 and females over 50 need 8 mg of iron daily. If you are a female between 19 and 50 years old, shoot for 18 mg a day.

Holiday Iron: Raisins in the stuffing, foods sautéed in a cast iron skillet

References: Pediatrics 2009, Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging 2003, Office of Dietary Supplements, Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center, Institute of Medicine


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