Written by SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD on April 1, 2020 — Medically reviewed by Kathy W. Warwick, R.D., CDE
Practice proper hand hygiene? Check.
Keep a healthy distance from people who are sick? Check.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth? Check.
Adopting habits to prevent illness are key to staying healthy, which is critical every day of the year. However, since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, it's become more of a priority for people across the nation — and for good reason.
The illness caused by coronavirus, called COVID-19, is highly contagious. And while healthy hygiene is essential to keeping it at bay, it's also helpful to give your immune system a little love while it's working hard to keep you healthy.
One of the easiest ways to do this is through nutrition. Unfortunately, this is also an area in which plenty of Americans can improve.
3 Ways Food Can Boost Your Immunity
A poor diet, being overweight, and lacking important vitamins and minerals are just some of the many factors that can contribute to a weakened immune system. In turn, they may make you more susceptible to contracting an infectious disease, such as COVID-19 or the flu.
As you continue to practice healthy hygiene and stay away from those who are sick, consider adding these three immune system-friendly diet tips to your list of ways to stay safe and healthy during this uncertain time.
1. Eat the right amount of food to fuel your body.
Similar to how your car needs gasoline to run, your body needs enough nutrition to function properly. In order to fuel the many processes that go on in your body every single day, including your immune system, it requires nutritious food.
Your immune system is made up of cells and proteins that defend against infection. In order to make these essential components, your body needs energy, which comes from the food and drinks you put in your body.
While it's necessary to eat enough food, it's important not to overeat, either. Overeating can lead to obesity, and obesity has actually been linked to an impaired immune system — leaving you susceptible to infectious diseases like COVID-19. This is because obesity can destroy the white blood cells that fight against infections and kill viruses.
The key is to provide your body with the right amount of fuel. Though this depends largely on factors such as your age, weight, and activity level, the general rule of thumb is for women to consume 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day and men to consume 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.
2. Limit the amount of fat in your diet.
Just as fuel is important to keep your body running, it's crucial to provide it with the right kind of fuel. Your body is like a luxury car — it needs quality fuel to keep it going. And a diet full of unhealthy fats, such as saturated fat from foods like fatty beef, pork, butter, and cheese, is not considered high quality.
Limiting how much unhealthy fat you eat can actually help strengthen your immune system. Too much fat, on the other hand, can leave you more susceptible to infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
For instance, excess unhealthy oil in your diet may impair your white blood cells, which have the important job of fighting off infections. In addition, high-fat diets can negatively impact gut microbiota, which helps your immune system stay strong.
Keep in mind — limiting fats in your diet won't just benefit your immune system. It'll also lower your risk of heart disease, which has been shown to lead to more complications if you do contract COVID-19.
This doesn't mean you can never eat foods like pork or cheese — just do so in moderation.
3. Incorporate foods with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
People often turn to orange juice and other forms of vitamin C to kick a cold. And while a large glass of OJ isn't necessarily going to send an illness packing right away, there is some science behind this thinking.
From oranges to mangoes to sweet potatoes, fruits and veggies pack a punch when it comes to immunity-building nutrients. Plus, there are other foods that provide huge immune-boosting support, such as:
Vitamin C (cantaloupes, oranges, broccoli, and brussels sprouts)
Vitamin E (vegetable oils, nuts, spinach, and broccoli)
Vitamin D (salmon, cheese, and fortified milk)
Zinc (beef, nuts, whole grains)
Beta-Carotene (sweet potatoes, carrots, green leafy vegetables)
People who are deficient in one or more of these nutrients are often more susceptible to infections. And if they do get sick, the infection is likely to last longer and be more severe.
It's also important to try to consume these nutrients through whole foods — meaning not from a pill but from the food you eat. While supplements may seem easier and more convenient, whole food comes with benefits that supplements just can't supply (such as fiber).
Be Good to Your Body — And Let it Be Good to You
Your body is constantly working hard on your behalf, and right now, it's safe to say it's working a little overtime. Whether that's because of the risk of contracting COVID-19 or a little extra anxiety, your body deserves some extra love right now.
Using healthy nutrition to boost your immune system should be a year-round endeavor. After all, your body is always on the job — and you should always be on the job to support it.
Looking for ways to manage your nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic? Call 610-738-2835 to learn more about Nutrition and Weight Management. Also, check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines to protecting yourself from COVID-19.
Last medically reviewed on October 15, 2020
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