Winter is coming! Boost your immune system with tasty dairy foods.

Girl sneezing, needs immunity boosting dairy nutrition.

A-CHOO! Chances are that if you’re hearing that familiar sound more often, then it’s flu season, and your immune health is likely top-of-mind. While supporting your immune system year-round is ideal, it is especially important during winter, when cold and influenza activity increases. Additionally, the possibility of new emerging variants of COVID-19 only exemplifies the need to keep our immunity fighting spirit. A healthy diet, including one that regularly incorporates certain dairy foods, can play a big role in boosting immune health and helping your body fight off infection. Here are some of the best dairy foods to keep your immune system strong.

Delicious cheeses and dairy products.  Full of immunity boosting power.

Nutrient Dense: Milk & Cheese 

Whether you consume plain unflavored or flavored milk, such as chocolate milk, you still get the same essential nutrients that support your immune system. Milk provides vitamins A and D, protein, zinc, and selenium, all helpful in keeping your immune system healthy. For example, in addition to being great for bone health, Vitamin D plays an essential role in immune function as it regulates specific proteins that directly kill pathogens, thus reducing the risk of infection.

Additionally, zinc and selenium have a long history of supporting immune function. Maintaining adequate amounts of zinc and selenium play an essential role in maintaining and developing immune cells and reducing the risk of infections. Drinking milk through the winter will supply your body with vital nutrients to keep your immune system strong all season long!

With a wide range of flavors and textures, cheese is not just a tasty option but is, in fact, a very nutritious dairy food. It’s packed full of essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, phosphorus, vitamin B12, and vitamin A.

Consuming cheese may help people reach adequate amounts of vitamin A, which plays a vital part in our immune system. Vitamin A is involved in developing the immune system and helps the immune system regulate its response while demonstrating therapeutic effects in infectious diseases.  Treat yourself to all types of cheese varieties this winter!

Fermented Dairy Foods: Yogurt & Kefir

Yogurt is a popular dairy food made through the process of bacterial fermentation of milk. Kefir is similar to yogurt in that it is a fermented milk product. However, the key difference is that kefir is made with kefir grains instead of cultured bacteria. Yogurt and kefir have many health benefits because they contain high amounts of protein and other vitamins and minerals. And most notably, they supply our bodies with probiotics for immune health.

Probiotics are live “good” bacteria naturally occurring in yogurt and kefir. There are many different strains of bacteria or live cultures in yogurt and kefir. Lactobacillus is a probiotic strain that is very common in yogurt and kefir. Research supports that this strain of bacteria may help stimulate our immune system by inducing certain enzymes to help our immune system destroy invading pathogens.  When purchasing these products, look for “live probiotic cultures” on the label to ensure that you get significant amounts of beneficial bacteria. Try some kefir or yogurt in a smoothie to give yourself an immune boost and a healthy helping of probiotics!

For more information, please check out these resources:

Author Sean Hamer is a dietetic intern in the Graduate Program in Human Nutrition at Oregon Health and Sciences University