A healthy diet — including fruits and vegetables, dairy and protein-rich meat and poultry — plays a vital role in helping our immune system work like it should, protecting our bodies from viruses and other germs that can make us sick, explains Rochelle Gilman, a registered dietitian with the Iowa Beef Industry Council.

“Going into the cold and flu season, enjoying a healthy diet that includes foods that are rich in nutrients can help support a healthy immune system, and zinc is one of those (nutrients),” Gilman says.

Specifically, animal-based proteins, such as real beef and pork, are good sources of zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins, which benefit a healthy immune system, she says.

Gilman notes that beef is an excellent source of protein. A 3-ounce serving of beef provides one-half of your daily value for protein, and it considered high quality protein, meaning that it provides all the essential amino acids that your body needs.

Beef also is a good source of 10 essential nutrients, including B vitamins, zinc, iron, choline and selenium, that are important for an active, healthy lifestyle.

“Zinc and iron from beef both are in a form that your body readily absorbs. Your body can digest and absorb it more easily (from animal-based proteins) than if it comes from a plant source,” she continues.

Plus, if you pair beef with an iron-rich vegetable, such as spinach, your body absorbs the iron from the spinach better than by eating the spinach alone, Gilman says.

Indeed, animal-based proteins are a good addition if you’re following a plant-based diet, so you can get the nutrition benefits from all the food groups – fruits and vegetables; grains; dairy; and meat, poultry and seafood.

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