Nutrition and Immune System Function

With many of us at home, we may be snacking a little more than usual and making comfort foods, and this is a GOOD thing! We need to enjoy our food and treat ourselves, especially with how stressful the world is today. As a certified sports and exercise nutrition coach, I say enjoy what you want to eat BUT be sure to increase your intake of vegetables while you are at it.

Add veggies to your comfort food.

Good nutrition will not affect whether or not we contract the flu, coronavirus, or any other illness; however, good nutrition ensures your body is getting adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants to create a body that functions at its best. When we are at our best, our body ‘s immune system is highly functional, and this can reduce the severity of your symptoms and reduce recovery time.  

Good nutrition is a balanced diet consisting of lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, eating 1-2 servings per day of fermented foods or things like yogurt provide probiotics that we need for a healthy gut. This kind of balanced diet not only makes our body stronger, it creates the conditions necessary for a good mood, less anxiety and less depression.

A 2018 study presented in the journal Nutrients states that vitamins A, C, D, E, B2-6-and 12, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc are essential for strong immune systems. These nutrients are found in leafy greens, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and many other fruits and vegetables. B vitamins are abundant in meat and beans.

Some other specific foods known to boost our immune system include garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric and fermented vegetables. Eat the rainbow of vegetables and fruit because there are different nutrients found in each color and they are all essential for competent immune function.

Some tips for adding more vegetables to your meals:

  • Add veggies to your grilled cheese, mac-n-cheese, or pizza.
  • Omelets or scrambles...endless possibilities.
  • Make a salad to go with your comfort food meal.
  • Add spinach to your fruit smoothie.
  • Add grapes, berries, or carrot sticks to your cheese and cracker snack.

Also, these help:

  • Get some exercise, especially light to moderate forms like walking, running, hiking, biking – if you are used to high intensity workouts keep doing them 1-2 times per week, but lighter movement or cardiovascular exercise, especially outside in fresh air, is particularly known boost your immune system.
  • Practice stress release (meditation, religious worship)
  • Stay connected to people via Zoom, Facetime or a phone call.
  • Stimulate your brain with learning something new, doing a puzzle or crossword, or reading a book.
  • Get enough sleep.

Lastly, keep telling yourself we are all in this together and we will all get through it.