As we approach the last couple weeks of the semester and finals are counting down, we are also approaching colder weather and the impending doom of cold and flu season.

Every year it seems to wait until the prime opportunity to strike. Last year the flu hit campus on finals week and spread like wildfire. With a good immune system, you have a better chance at fighting it off this year and whatever else comes your way.

Factors like lack of sleep, poor nutrition and stress can suppress your immune system and increase your risk of an infection or cold.

Our immune system’s function is to attack and destroy foreign substances that enter into our body. Thankfully our body has plenty of defense mechanisms that help counteract these foreign substances such as tears, saliva, stomach acids, skin and enzymes.

However, 80 percent of our immune health is related to our gut. If you don’t have a properly functioning gut, or digestive system, then it’s very easy for these foreign substances to attack and spread throughout our body.

A great way to keep your immune system up is by using nutrition.

By having a well-balanced diet, you are providing your body with all it needs in order to function properly, which provides a properly functioning gut. With a well-balanced diet also comes plenty of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that go straight to helping your body stay healthy. Protein is another great factor in keeping your immune system high. Protein helps protect your muscles from breaking down and increases your immune function.

Meeting the RDA, or recommended daily allowance, of vitamins and minerals helps boost your immune function too. Consuming enough and meeting the RDA is key. Selenium and copper are two important minerals that you should meet the RDA for.

Selenium has antioxidant properties that help protect against cell damage and copper works with iron to help form red blood cells and aid in our immune system and healthy bones. Selenium and copper are found in foods such as meat, nuts, beans and whole grains.

Probiotics and antioxidants are extremely important in increasing your immune system. Probiotics contain gut-friendly bacteria which improve your GI, or gastrointestinal, health and decrease instances of diarrhea. A regular intake of probiotics can increase the beneficial intestinal bacteria. Some good sources are yogurt, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, miso and kimchi. Antioxidants are enzymes or other organic substances that counteract damaging effects of oxidation in our body’s tissues. Vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene are some examples of antioxidants and can be found in foods like carrots, sweet and white potatoes, citrus fruits, nuts and spinach.

A few surprising nutrition elements that boost your immune system are fiber, capsaicin, beta-glucans, turmeric and curcumin. Fiber actually helps increase your body’s antibodies. Good sources are fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Capsaicin helps improve the immune system by flushing out any toxins within the body. It is generally found in spicy foods and hot sauce. Beta-glucans are carbohydrates that also activate the body’s white blood cell count like fiber, but it also improves resistance. Turmeric and curcumin are two brightly yellow spices generally used in Indian and Thai dishes. They both help by alleviating inflammation.

Overall, nutrition can really help boost your immune system, so in order to keep everything functioning properly and keep yourself from getting sick, make sure you use some of these nutritional tips. Now it should be really easy for you to keep your immune system up and prevent yourself from getting sick.

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.

Kaitlin Kulp is a senior majoring in nutritional sciences and is the Public Relations/Social Media Chair of the Student Nutrition Association.