In this series, our experts answer nutrition questions to help you nourish your best life at every age.*
Question: This time of year, it seems that everyone around me is sick! What can I do to keep healthy? Will loading up on vitamin C tablets help?
Answer: You are on the right track — your vitamin and mineral levels play an important role in keeping the immune system strong so that it can fight off foreign invaders, including cold and flu viruses!
However, when it comes to nutrition, it's always best to take a "food first" approach. Whole foods not only contain the vitamins and minerals that we need, they contain those nutrients in natural, highly bioavailable forms — meaning they can be used more easily by the body.
Whole foods also contain them in the right amounts. After all, with vitamins (including vitamin C), more is not always better. Each day, your body can only take in and use certain amounts of vitamins and minerals. Take in more than you need with "mega-dose" tablets advertised to increase immunity, and you can end up passing a lot of it out through your urine! What's more, excess levels of other vitamins, called "fat-soluble" vitamins, aren't excreted in your urine and can build up in the body. So, over time, taking extra-high doses could become problematic. That's certainly not what you're going for!
Immunity Supporting Foods
OK, so if you're turning to whole foods, which ones do you need? Well, the most important vitamins and minerals for boosting your immunity — and keeping that pesky cold at bay — include vitamins A, C and E, as well as zinc.
So this cold and flu season, follow a balanced diet — filling each plate with produce, lean meats, dairy and healthy fats — and you will get what you need to keep your immune system strong and healthy. Nature provides!
The expert: Abby Sauer, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian specializing in adult nutrition and wellness at Abbott.