Chris Cifelli
Chris Cifelli, Ph.D., is senior vice president of Nutrition Research at the National Dairy Council.

Obviously, nobody enjoys being sick and the importance of a healthy immune system has taken on added emphasis for consumers amid the COVID-19 crisis, including many who seek a magic-bullet solution.

Yet, too often people avoid following basic healthy practices that can maintain or strengthen the immune system and lessen the chances of catching a common cold, flu, or something worse. It’s important to remember that little or routine things can end up making a big difference to promote immune health. Regular sleep and exercise, managing stress, and, of course, quality nutrition can all support the immune system. 

Our body’s immune system is a fascinating, extremely complex system that serves as our personal department of defense. But it requires nourishment to function at its best, especially from nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, and dairy foods. Yet, we know that roughly two of every 10 Americans are falling short of consuming the recommended three daily servings of dairy and five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Following a healthy eating pattern that features adequate servings of these foods will help supply and replenish immune cells with the essential vitamins and minerals needed for optimal functioning to fight off invading pathogens. 

Immune cells benefit from protein, selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, D, B12, C, E, and B6. Fruits and vegetables are obvious key sources of many of these nutrients but don’t forget dairy foods, which are a key supplier of protein, selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, D, and B12.

The importance of immunity takes on an added emphasis for the immune compromised, the elderly, and those with pre-existing chronic diseases. Additionally, there is concern among parents who have children in school. Yet, we know that a child’s diet quality becomes suboptimal at an early age, as noted in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines cite a Healthy Index Score of 61 out of 100 for children ages 2 to 4 and it declines as they age into their teenage years, reaching 51 for kids ages 14 to 18.

Regardless of a person’s age, it’s important to remember the basics when it comes to the goal of feeling well. A healthy eating pattern that includes the powerful combination of dairy foods, fruits, and vegetables can help provide the immune system with the nutrients it needs to protect the body and promote wellness.

Chris Cifelli, Ph.D., is senior vice president of Nutrition Research at the National Dairy Council.