Rewarding your body with foods that will boost your immunity is never a bad thing. Remember, when we treat our bodies good, they treat us good in return. Registered dietitian Sally is here with helpful immune-boosting tips that your body will thank you for in the long haul, especially during flu season.

There’s a lot of hype right now about which foods have the power to knock out viruses or which supplements keep you one step ahead of germs.

The reality is, there is no one magic food you can eat or supplement you can take that can keep you healthy. And tried-and-true moves like getting enough sleep and having good handwashing practices are still top lines of defense against getting sick.

But how you and your family nourish yourselves every day does have an impact on your immune system.

Instead of focusing on specific foods or pills, adopt these nine daily habits that will help you stay at your best NOW–and all year long.

1. Include protein at every meal and snack

Protein-rich foods deliver amino acids to the body. Those are the building blocks to make proteins inside the body, like hormones, enzymes and antibodies.

Some protein foods also contain zinc, like beef and chickpeas, a mineral needed to make t-cells. It’s no wonder that not getting enough protein can weaken the immune system.

Are you worried your kids don’t get enough protein? Plenty of foods contain protein, and they all add up. Here are 20 sources (that aren’t meat).

2. Eat a fruit and/or vegetable

Produce is high in Vitamin C, which plenty of people pop in pill-form to stay healthy. The evidence is mixed on how much straight Vitamin C from a supplement helps.

The perk to getting it from foods (like strawberries, oranges, broccoli, and bell peppers) is that you’re also getting fiber and the disease-fighting compounds naturally found in plant foods.

Foods that are rich in vitamin C

Be sure to include yellow and orange-hued fruits and veggies too (like carrots, sweetpotatoes, and mango) which contain vitamin A, a nutrient that keeps tissues in the mouth, intestines, and respiratory tract healthy.

Foods that are rich in vitamin A

drinking water

3. Drink water throughout the day

Water helps carry nutrients throughout the body and is a major component of the lymph system, which transports white blood cells.

If your kids aren’t fans of plain water, add a splash of juice, serve sparkling water, or infuse with some fresh fruit (like thinly sliced oranges or a few sliced berries) to their glass. And offer water when they’re really parched, so they associate it with quenching their thirst.

4. Serve yogurt and other fermented foods

A lot of immune cells actually live in the gut, along with trillions of bacteria. Nourishing the gut with lots of “good” bacteria can create a healthier climate, with less room for “bad” bacteria.

Beyond yogurt, consider kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi. Check out these other probiotic-rich foods for a healthy gut.

5. Look beyond salt to season meals

There’s research around certain plant foods that are used to flavor foods, including turmeric, garlic, ginger, and oregano. Some may actually act as anti-microbials, others have potentially strong antioxidant potential (that means they help protect cells from damage).

So instead of reaching for the salt shaker to boost flavor, consider using your spice cabinet and pantry more for dried and fresh seasonings to get extra benefits.

Of course, don’t forget the importance of thoroughly washing your hands. Check out this post for other foods to help fight cold and flu season!

6. Include sources of healthy fats

A certain kind of healthy fat called omega-3 may play a role in keeping the immune system healthy. Bonus: These fats are also good for your heart and may help protect against certain kinds of cancer too. 

You can get omega-3 fats from several different places. It’s present in fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel and also some plant foods like walnuts, flaxseed, chia seed, and canola oil.

7. Choose fewer ultra-processed foods

There’s nothing wrong with having chips, packaged cookies, or frozen chicken nuggets sometimes. But a diet that’s dominated by these “ultra-processed foods” is being found in research to have associations with higher risk for disease. 

What’s the possible link? These foods tend to be higher in fat, salt, and sugar and lower in fiber. Food additives, chemicals in food packaging, and processing methods like high-temperature heating could also be contributing to health problems.

So there’s no shame in packaged foods (we all use them!) but be sure your family’s meals and snacks contain plenty of whole foods too.

8. Consider a probiotic

As dietitians, we typically say “food first” when it comes to getting needed nutrients. But if your family doesn’t eat a lot of fermented foods (like yogurt and kefir) or you’d like an extra layer of defense, consider a probiotic supplement.

By taking in extra good bacteria, you can help populate your gut with beneficial bugs that will help ward off the bad ones. Research is mixed on whether the supplements do bolster immunity. But probiotics have another possible perk: Helping day-to-day tummy troubles. My family started taking probiotics when the pandemic began, and we all agree that our digestive systems seem to be running more smoothly. So we’ve kept up the habit. 

9. Get a multivitamin for picky eaters

It’s a fact that getting enough nutrients is a key part of staying healthy and fighting off illness and disease. But if you have an extremely picky eater who eats very few foods, they may not be getting what they need. Talk to your pediatrician or dietitian about supplementing with a multivitamin to fill in the gaps.