Cold and flu season is upon us, and no one likes to miss work or the weekend party because of sickness. Taking preventative measures like washing hands and getting a flu shot are important, but have you ever thought about maximizing your diet to boost your immunity?

Protein is an essential part of the diet no matter the time of year. As you consume protein, it is broken down by the body into amino acids, which are the building blocks of new proteins. Antibodies are some of the proteins your body produces, and their job is to fight illness and allergens. Consuming at least the recommended dietary allowance of protein will give your body the best chance at strengthening your immune system. This means that typically, healthy men and women should aim for at least 56 and 46 grams of protein per day, respectively.

Vitamins and minerals are also essential for building a strong immunity, which means maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is important. Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system, maintain skin integrity, and enhances tissue, stomach and respiratory health. The best sources include sweet potatoes, carrots and kale.

Everyone has heard to load up on vitamin C when they suspect a cold in coming on. That theory has been questioned, but several cells involved in immune functions, including phagocytes and t-cells, require vitamin C to perform their pathogen fighting tasks. However, the best way to use vitamin C to improve immunity is to maintain a consistent intake over time by consuming vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits, strawberries and red bell peppers.

Zinc is a mineral many people have heard of, but don’t know much about. Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system. It plays a crucial role in the development and function of cells that initiate the immune response. Zinc can help prevent infections, act as an antioxidant and help heal wounds. Including lean meats, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grains and a variety of beans and nuts will ensure enough zinc in the diet.

In short, an immune boosting diet doesn’t contain any special super foods or secret ingredients. It is made up of the same foods that create a well-balanced diet all year long: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.

Taryn Palmer is a registered dietitian for the Magic Valley YMCA.

Classic Chicken Soup

Ingredients

3 garlic cloves, minced

5 carrots, diced

2 onions, diced

4 celery stalks, diced

1 3-pound whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces

6 cups water

1/3 cup chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon fine sea salt, more for salting the chicken and more to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, more to taste

1 bay leaf

Instructions

1. Place garlic, carrots, onion and celery into the insert of your slow cooker.

2. Pat chicken dry and season generously with sea salt, then add the chicken into the slow cooker.

3. Add in the water, dill, salt, pepper and bay leaf.

4. Set on low for 8 hours.

5. Once done, discard the bay leaf and remove the chicken to shred. Discard the skin and bones.

6. Place chicken back into the slow cooker. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

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