health care,
education and
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health care,
education  and
social services

Boost Your Immune System and Stay Healthy This Winter!

Your immune system plays a vital role, protecting your body against bacteria and viruses. In order to stay at your healthiest, it’s important to keep your immune system strong. Mary’s Center’s WIC Program Nutritionist, Zara Awan, tells you how.

 There are two main strategies you can use to boost your immunity:

1.    Avoid or change habits that reduce your immunity.

Obesity, stress and harmful environmental factors are linked to reduced immunity, so try to avoid those.

  • Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight and to manage your stress levels. (Consider joining the Mary’s Center Walking Group, for example).
  • Make sure you get adequate sleep.
  • Try to drink alcohol in moderation and to quit smoking.

2.    Eat foods that increase your immunity.

A nutritious diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables is essential to boosting your immunity, especially this time of year. Good nutrition offers protection from seasonal illnesses such as the flu and other health problems including the common cold, allergies and even cancers. Certain nutrients can help shield you against infections, so be sure to include these nutrients in your eating regimen.

  • Vitamin A helps to regulate the immune system by keeping tissues in the mouth, stomach and intestines healthy. Get this vitamin from foods such as spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, kale, and eggs.
  • Vitamin B6 is necessary to help biochemical reactions in the immune system.  Foods that are high in vitamin B6 include chicken, salmon, tuna, and chick peas.
  • Vitamin C is one of the most important immunity boosters. Foods high in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, strawberries, bell peppers, papaya, spinach, kale and tomato juice. Daily consumption of this vitamin is necessary, since your body does not naturally produce or store this vitamin.
  • Vitamin E works as a powerful antioxidant that improves immune function and helps fight off infections. Include more of this healthy vitamin in your diet by eating spinach, fortified cereals, hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower or safflower oil, and peanut butter.


  • Probiotics are the “good” or helpful bacteria and yeasts in your digestive system. They help your body absorb nutrients that assist in detoxifying your colon, which in turn helps to balance out and support your immune system. Try to consume more probiotic-rich foods like yogurt (the label should say that it contains “live active cultures”)and fermented vegetables (such as the Korean dish kimchi shown above or the German dish sauerkraut).
  • Prebiotics act as fertilizer to help the good bacteria in your digestive system to grow. Prebiotic foods to add to your diet include raw garlic, leeks, jicama, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes and dandelion greens, as well as raw or cooked onions.

Put this advice into action and you’ll be well on your way to protecting and boosting your immune system and enjoying a healthy life!

Need some affordable meal ideas to get you started? Download your FREE WIC Healthy Eating Recipe book from our website, with delicious suggestions for every day of the month!

Zara AwanAbout Zara Awan

Zara Awan is a Nutritionist in Mary’s Center’s WIC Program. She sees participants at the site on Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC.  She obtained a BS in Dietetics from Michigan State University, and completed her research-focused dietetic internship at Virginia State University. She is currently taking her last steps in becoming a Registered Dietitian. Zara enjoys strawberries, broccoli and avocados as snacks and believes it’s important to paint your plate with different fruits and vegetables. She loves baking, running, reading, traveling and spending time with family and friends. She speaks fluent English and Urdu and basic Arabic. Zara says: “I have always had a passion for serving others especially when it comes to nutrition and I enjoy guiding clients to help them create healthy lifestyles through the Mary's Center WIC program.”


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