Nutrition is Key to a Healthy Immune System

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April 17, 2020


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Proper nutrition is key to maintaining a healthy immune system, which consists of various organs, cells and tissues that help fight off pathogens, like viruses and bacteria.

What a Healthy Diet Cannot Do
While a healthy diet can do a lot, it cannot prevent a pathogen, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19), from entering your body. You can help prevent infection by following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) recommendations, such as proper handwashing and social distancing.

What a Healthy Diet Can Do
A healthy diet provides essential nutrients to help strengthen a person’s immune response to fight off pathogens. Foods rich in vitamin A (or beta-carotene), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D, antioxidants and other nutrients keep your immune system functioning optimally.

Eat the Rainbow – and Add Some Color to Your Plate
Did you know that the various colors in foods represent different nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals? These are all essential for keeping the immune system strong.

Although specific foods or diets will not be able to shield you from contracting COVID-19, we do know that a healthy immune system can give your body extra protection to fight it, if you do become exposed.

The following colorful nutrients play an important role in supporting the development and functionality of your immune system.

Orange = Beta-carotene
Pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, carrots and mangos are rich in beta-carotene, which has been shown to offer protection for lungs and help with immunity. Although orange, spinach, tomatoes and broccoli are also good sources of beta-carotene.

Sunshine and Vitamin D
Important elements to support immune system functions and fight infection. Foods found high in vitamin D are mushrooms, fatty fish like salmon, and eggs. It is also found in fortified milk and milk alternatives.

Vitamin C
Vitalize your diet by reaching for food high in Vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, berries, melons, broccoli, tomatoes and bell peppers.

Keep your Bacteria Happy
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that promote health. They can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi. Probiotics are found in all plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. Limit sugary foods and alcohol since that can disrupt your gut bacteria.

Stay in Check with Zinc
Zinc not only helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses, it also helps wounds heal and is important for proper senses of taste and smell. Zinc is found in wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu. It is also found in meats and seafood.

Other healthy lifestyle recommendations are also important to maintain a healthy immune system, including regular exercise and adequate sleep.

About the Authors:
Natalie Castro is a registered dietitian and the nutrition and wellness manager at Baptist Health South Florida. Lucette Talamas is a registered dietitian with community health at Baptist Health South Florida.

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