By Kristina Rivera, MS, RDN
Finding ways to boost your immune system is all the rage these days amid the coronavirus crisis. The latest supplements may try to entice you with gimmicks, but there is no magic pill to keep you healthy. Systems are complex by nature; our immune system requires balance and harmony of several components to function properly.
Here are several factors that help support a strong immune system:
- Exercise regularly (at least 150 minutes per week)
- Achieve a healthy weight
- Get quality sleep
- Manage stress
- Quit smoking
- Drink alcohol in moderation (or better yet, not at all)
- Wash hands frequently, and avoid touching your face
And last but not least…
- Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables
Eating a variety of minimally processed foods is most effective in supporting our immune system due to the synergistic effects between nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber that a supplement alone cannot provide.
Supplements can help “fill in the gaps” for a healthy balanced diet, or help correct a deficiency, but they are not meant to make up for poor eating habits.
Here are key nutrients that support the immune system:
Vitamin A is mainly known for its role in vision health. It helps protect the body from infection by keeping the integrity of skin and tissues.
- Top sources: sweet potatoes, spinach (and other leafy greens), carrots, low-fat dairy, fish, and eggs
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that aids in wound healing and supports the immune system to resist infection. Vitamin C supplementation is hardly ever needed, much less in mega doses, since it has not been shown to prevent a cold, though it could shorten its duration.
- Top sources: citrus, sweet peppers (especially red), strawberries, broccoli
Vitamin D is mainly known for its role in strong bones, and it also modulates immune function and reduces inflammation. It is present in very few foods and supplements may be needed.
- Top sources: fortified milk or plant-based milks, fatty fish, and mushrooms exposed to UV light
Vitamin E is a powerful, fat-soluble antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation.
- Top sources: sunflower seeds/oil, almonds, and peanuts
Protein and zinc both play a role in supporting the immune system, especially in healing and recovery. In general, foods that contain protein also contain zinc in varying amounts.
- Top sources: oysters, lean meats/poultry, and legumes
There are even more nutrients that support immune function, which is why variety in our diet pattern is important. Variety means a broad range of nutrients; a good strategy is to eat the rainbow!
What better time than now to improve eating habits when we are spending more time at home…Try the following recipes!