5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System While Traveling
Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE
Remember these tips the next time you're about to travel and want to give your immune system extra support.
Our immune system is the built-in defense that protects us from invading pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. Our bodies are amazing machines coordinating different immune cells and their activity to mount a defense when needed! How we live impacts how effectively our immune process functions.
Practicing a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important steps to naturally keeping one’s immune system strong and healthy, whether at home or on the road. (1)
How to Keep Your Immune System Strong
A healthy lifestyle to keep your immune system strong includes:
Eating a balanced diet
Engaging in physical activity
Wisely managing stress
Getting restorative sleep
5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System with Food
While there are important lifestyle practices, there are also foods that you can focus on that can greatly impact your immune system for the better! Here are the five key areas I recommend focusing on.
Eat a high quality diet
Cut down on sugar and refined carbs
Include omega-3s in your diet
Now let's take a closer look at each one.
1. Eat a High-Quality Diet for Immunity
What we eat impacts how well our immune system works. It relies on crucial macro and micronutrients, vital in confronting everyday pathogens. The availability of adequate minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium is essential for the basic building blocks of immune cells. Vitamins like vitamins C and E are needed in optimal amounts. These vitamins help support our antioxidant defenses, which are required to limit tissue damage when our immune system fights a virus. (1)
MyMenu’s Calibrate nutrient assessment evaluates which essential nutrients are low in your diet. Then the personalized report, restaurant recommendations, and recipes guide you towards higher-nutrient, immune-boosting foods!
2. Boost Phytonutrients for Immunity
Phytonutrients are the molecules that give plants their bright colors and unique health benefits. Unfortunately, Americans aren’t getting enough foods packed with phytonutrients. Every color of plant in foods has a unique power to protect your body. Many play a role in stopping viruses or bacteria and improving our immunity.
For example, these phytonutrients are essential to look for when ordering out or snacking on-the-go to strengthen immunity:
carotenoids, the pigment in orange fruits, leafy greens, and red tomatoes
organosulfur compounds in green broccoli, white garlic, and brown nuts
polyphenols in colorful berries and apples, as well in brown cacao
terpenes found in red cherries and green oregano, and rosemary (3)
Boost these foods when traveling:
Look for easy-to-eat fruit, like smoothies, apples, or pre-cut fruit at the airport, or stop by a food mart before you hit the hotel.
Buy bars with whole food ingredients like RX, Lara, and Kind.
Stock up on easily peeled fruits with peels like clementines, bananas, and oranges.
Baby carrots and sugar snap peas are often prewashed and come in ready-to-go single servings.
Grab some grapes or berries at the corner store before heading into the hotel. Then rinse them off and enjoy them as a snack.
Plan your meals out using the Eat feature on MyMenu to curate balance and choose nutrient-dense foods to keep your immune system at its best!
3. Cut Down on Sugar and Refined Carbs
It’s no surprise that Americans are getting alarming amounts of sugar. It’s hidden in so many foods—making reading the nutrition label a must!
Cap added sugar at no more than six teaspoons a day or 24 grams. Sugar displaces vital nutrients which are essential for immunity!
When you choose snacks, compare the labels of two similar products. Then opt for those with less sugar. Skip the high-sugar beverages, and reduce or eliminate added sugar to coffee or tea.
4. Stay Hydrated
Water is your most critical nutrient, considering your body is about 60% water. Being hydrated keeps your body well lubricated from your nasal passages to your largest and most important organ for the immune system—your gut.
Look for salads or veggie dishes to help rehydrate after a plane ride.
Choose vegetables like cucumbers, celery, radish, tomatoes, and cauliflower which are all 92-96% water.
Bring a reusable water bottle and refill it at the hotel gym.
Staying hydrated also helps you stay sharp, focused, and energized, so you continue to make healthy non-impulse food choices. In addition, some research indicates dehydration may suppress immunity by decreasing neutrophil function. So make it a habit to rehydrate on the way to the hotel!
5. Include Omega 3’s in Your Diet
Omega-3 fatty acids have a vital role in intestinal health. Your gut is your largest immune system organ and reflects your overall health. They also help support macrophages – which in simple terms engulf pathogens (organisms that cause disease) and gobble them up. YEAH, immune system!
Add walnuts to your travel trail mix for an omega-3-rich addition.
Look for smoothies, smoothie bowls, and oatmeal topped with hemp seeds or chia seeds – these provide plant sources of omega 3’s known as alpha-linolenic acid.
Order salmon when dining out at least once a week.
Opt for food sources for omega-3’s before supplements. More is not better as taking mega doses through supplements can suppress the immune system. Getting nutrients through food is generally better absorbed – and tastes better than supplements!
You now have a few tips to boost your immunity while traveling. The next step is to commit to a goal! Start small, for example, “For my upcoming trip I will stop at a food mart before hitting the hotel and purchase some fruit or veggies to enjoy as a snack.”
Strengthening immunity through healthy lifestyle practices: Recommendations for lifestyle interventions in the management of COVID-19. Lifestyle Medicine doi: 10.1002/lim2.7
Halas M. (2019) Part 5: Phytonutrients.The Plant-Based Boost Nutrition Solutions for Athletes and Exercise Enthusiasts. 2019
Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE, is CEO of SuperKids Nutrition and creator of the
Super Crew. She's a nationally recognized Registered Dietitian specializing in pediatrics, sports, and plant-based nutrition. Check out her books that promote plant-based eating for both children and adults, including The Plant-Based Boost, Nutrition Solutions for Athletes and Exercise Enthusiasts, The Plant-Based Boost Cookbook, 100+ Recipes for Athletes and Exercise Enthusiasts, The Super Crew’s Breakfast Cookbook for Kids, 50 Tasty Recipes + 100 Fun Nutrition Activities, and Healthy Eating for Families, The Ultimate Nutrition Guide for Kids, Parents, and Educators (in English and Spanish). Shop her books here.