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VCU Massey Cancer Center


Diet and nutrition: immunity

VCU Health and Massey registered dietitian Allie Farley provides nutrition tips and information on the connection between diet and cancer. Visit Allie's Diet and Nutrition blog to read more. If there is there a topic that you would like to see covered, send your requests to

There is no shortage of claims that certain foods or supplements can boost our immune systems, which makes it very difficult to decipher the truth. It is important to understand that no foods or nutrients have been found to effect the immune system as a whole. Current research indicates that deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals may increase the risk for infections, although supplementation beyond the body's need has not been shown to improve immune function.

Additionally, there is currently not enough evidence to support the claims that vitamin C and/or zinc can prevent a cold. Too much zinc may actually impair immune function. Furthermore, there is no convincing evidence that any particular herb or supplement can improve the body’s ability to fight off an infection. Herbs and certain supplements can be dangerous if over consumed. Keep in mind that our bodies prefer nutrients in food, not pill form. Improving the health of your body as a whole is the best thing you can do to improve immune function.

Your typical pattern of eating is far more important than any one food or nutrient. A plant-based diet has consistently been shown to promote good health and immunity. Aim to consume four to five cups of fruits and vegetables per day. Eat plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts and seeds at least once per day. Strive for 15-25 grams of protein per meal. Consume two to three cups of 100 percent whole grains per day. Drink 64 ounces of liquid per day from water, unsweetened tea or coffee. Last but not least, amp up the flavor of your food with herbs and spices instead of salt or salt-based seasonings.

Start the New Year right by working on a healthier you. Try these five easy immune boosting tips:

  1. Consume a varied diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  2. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
  3. Get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
  4. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. Use warm water and scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds.
  5. Find healthy activities that help you relieve stress daily.

For more information on boosting your immunity, visit

Massey does not endorse all integrative and complementary practices. We only recommend those that are known to be safe and have the potential to improve health when used alongside, and never in place of, professional medical care. All cancer patients are advised to consult with their physician before starting any integrative practice, as some may interfere with medical care.

Written by: Massey Communications Office

Posted on: January 4, 2019

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