March 31, 2021 by John Fernandez
Proper Nutrition Key to Maintaining Healthy Immune System
March is National Nutrition Month, and many are interested in learning how to properly nourish themselves amidst the COVID 19 pandemic. The truth is, there is no magic pill or single nutrient that can boost your immune system. Research continues to encourage the consumption of micronutrients through foods to maintain a healthy immune system and help fight off any pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria.
What a Healthy Diet Can’t Do
While a healthy diet can do a lot, it cannot prevent a pathogen such as the coronavirus from entering your body. You can help prevent infection by following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) recommendations, including wearing a mask whenever out of the home, social distancing, and washing your hands properly and frequently.
What a Healthy Diet Can Do
A healthy diet provides essential nutrients to help strengthen your 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 – 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 won’t 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 are 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. 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, eggs and fatty fish like salmon. It is also found in fortified milk and milk alternatives.
- Vitamin C
Vitalize your diet by reaching for food high in vitamin C. These include citrus fruits, berries, melons, broccoli, tomatoes and bell peppers.
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that promote gut health, which helps regulate the immune system to protect against infectious diseases. They can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi.
Prebiotics are the ‘food’ for the probiotics. Prebiotics are found in plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. Limit sugary foods and alcohol since that can disrupt your gut bacteria.
Zinc not only helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses, it also helps wounds heal and is important for maintaining a proper sense of taste and smell. Zinc is found in wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu, as well as in meats and seafood.
- Other healthy lifestyle recommendations are also crucial to maintaining a healthy immune system, including regular exercise and adequate sleep. In some cases, micronutrient supplementation may be considered in addition to following a healthy eating pattern.
About the Authors:
Natalie Castro is a registered dietitian and the nutrition and wellness manager at Baptist Health South Florida, where she oversees the food and nutrition policy for the organization. Ms. Castro earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Florida International University and a master’s degree in nutrition and exercise science from State University of New York at Buffalo. She believes a food environment supported by healthy choices fosters healthier lifestyle habits. She is certified in adult weight management by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and her research is published in several peer-reviewed medical journals.
Lucette Talamas is a registered dietitian with community health at Baptist Health South Florida. She holds a bachelor’s degree in food science and human nutrition from University of Florida and a master of science in nutrition and wellness from Benedictine University. With additional experience as a clinical dietitian, Ms. Talamas enjoys providing practical nutrition information to promote healthy lifestyles that can help prevent and manage chronic diseases. Her expert tips and advice have appeared in print and broadcast media, including The Miami Herald, South Florida PBS, CBS Miami, Telemundo and Univision. Active in professional nutrition organizations, Ms. Talamas received the 2018 Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award from the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.