It’s almost inevitable. When thousands of students share living spaces, dining halls, bathrooms, and classrooms, they’re bound to spread germs and illnesses. College kids living in dorms are especially vulnerable to spreading infections, as they spend so much of their time together in close quarters. What’s more, college students are apt to have unhealthy sleeping and eating habits, making them more susceptible to sicknesses.
While there’s no guaranteed way to avoid catching some sicknesses, like the cold or the flu, there seems to be something to the old saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Eating a healthy, balanced diet at school is an important factor in keeping your immune system strong. This can help your body ward off some viruses. Plus, if you do come down with an illness, having a healthy immune system may help you recover more quickly. Here’s how to choose the best immune-boosting foods at the dining hall to help keep your immune system in fighting shape.
Related: How to Stay Healthy in College
Nutrition for immune health
What you eat plays a vital role in your health. However, there’s no one food that’s sure to protect you from a cold, flu, or other viral infections of the respiratory tract. Rather, you need to eat a nutritious, balanced diet that’s rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals to properly fuel your body’s immune defenses. Choose foods with the following nutrients to support your immune health.
Our bodies need zinc to keep our immune systems in top shape. Studies show that people with low levels of zinc may have a higher risk of pneumonia and other infections. This may be because zinc helps form and activate white blood cells, which we need to help fight off illnesses. Zinc may also help wounds heal in some people.
Be sure to include lean meats (such as chicken), seafood, milk, whole grains, seeds, and nuts in your diet to get enough zinc.
Vitamin A aids in immune health by keeping your skin and the tissues in your digestive and respiratory systems healthy. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, eggs, and fortified foods.
Vitamin E has been associated with enhanced immune function. In fact, one symptom of a vitamin E deficiency is a weakened immune response. Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, and fortified cereals all contain vitamin E.
Vitamin B6 is needed to make cells of the immune system so it can fight off infections. Foods containing vitamin B6 include chickpeas, tuna, salmon, chicken, and potatoes.
Many people assume that vitamin C would top this list, as it’s a popular belief that it can prevent or even cure a cold. But the research doesn’t exactly back up this claim. Vitamin C only seems to lower the risk of getting a cold in extremely active people, such as marathoners and armed forces members who train intensely in artic weather. Although vitamin C doesn’t seem to affect the average person’s risk of catching a cold, some studies show that consuming 200 milligrams per day may slightly shorten the duration of a cold by about one day.
Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits (like oranges and grapefruits), red bell peppers, and strawberries. Other foods that don’t naturally contain vitamin C, like certain cereals, may be fortified with the vitamin.
Helpful herbs and spices
Certain herbs and spices are packed with nutrients, and using them in your food may help build up immunity, stop the growth of germs, and reduce inflammation in the body. Stock your pantry with these items:
This herb has been used to flavor dishes in many cultures, and it’s also touted as a cold remedy. One small study shows that garlic may lessen the severity of cold and flu symptoms, but more research is needed to know if this is true.
This commonly used spice may aid in immune health by affecting the growth of bacteria and viruses.
This bright yellow spice is used to flavor curry dishes, and it may also decrease inflammation and strengthen your immune system.
Benefits of whole foods
Note that it’s best to get nutrients from whole foods instead of taking them in supplement form. When you eat whole foods, you get a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other benefits like fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, which may help support immune function and protect against various chronic diseases.