You probably know that washing your hands regularly and getting enough sleep is important when it comes to fighting off a cold, but did you know that what you eat can also play a key role in boosting your immunity?

“You can’t underestimate the importance of good nutrition when it comes to…your immune system,” says Karen Ansel, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants—these are what keeps your body strong, and without them you’re not giving your body the edge it needs to ward off infection.”

Cold medicines generally only manage symptoms and do not actually cure the illness, but with nutritional support you can supply your immune system with what it needs to help you beat that cold or flu bug.

If taken immediately at the first signs and symptoms of a cold, supplements derived from the Echinacea herb are known to reduce severity and duration. 1,000 mg of Vitamin C taken daily is known to have the same effect. The benefit of taking either supplement may lead to shortening the amount of time you have a cold and/or making it milder.

Boosting certain white blood cells called monocytes and lymphocytes may also help rid a cold sooner. White blood cell production is supported by vitamins and minerals in certain foods. And we’re not talking just fruits and vegetables, foods from every food group are represented here. Make these foods a part of your diet for your best defense against colds and flu:

  • Citrus fruit – folate, Vitamin C
  • Cocoa – copper
  • Dark green leafy vegetables – folate, copper, beta carotene, Vitamin B-6
  • Beans, legumes – folate, zinc, copper
  • Eggs – Vitamin A, Vitamin D, zinc
  • Fish – Vitamin D, zinc, Vitamin B-6
  • Orange colored fruits and vegetables – Vitamin A, beta carotene
  • Banana, Potato, Vegetable juice – Vitamin B-6
  • Bell peppers, Broccoli, Tomato, Strawberries – Vitamin C
  • Milk & milk products – Vitamin A, Vitamin D, zinc
  • Nuts – zinc, copper
  • Meats (beef, pork, poultry) – Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6, zinc, copper
  • Shellfish – copper, zinc
  • Whole grains – zinc, copper

To keep your immune system up to par, avoid very low-calorie diets and/or high fat intake and always drink plenty of fluids to thin mucus and clear your breathing canals.

Next time you catch a runny nose, just turn to your refrigerator and pantry to remedy the common cold.