Amid current worries surrounding coronavirus, many people are wondering what they can do to bolster their immune system and fight off the virus.
It is important to remember that the immune system is just that – a complex system. While the idea of boosting your immune system makes for flashy headlines, that isn’t exactly how it works. While there are certain lifestyle factors that can help to strengthen the functions of the system, there is no food or supplement that can single-handedly cure or prevent diseases such as the common cold, flu, or COVID-19.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, notes that maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout the year is the best way to support a healthy immune system. The biggest keys are focusing on a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, staying active, and managing stress.
In addition to leading an overall healthy lifestyle, there are certain nutrients that are known to play key roles in immune health:
- Protein plays a role in healing and recovery. Aim for 20 – 35 grams per meal and try to space out consumption throughout the day as your body utilizes it better this way. Protein sources can be animal or plant-based, such as milk, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils.
- Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and keeps tissues in the skin, mouth, stomach, and respiratory system healthy. Red, orange, yellow, and dark green fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin A. This includes foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, mango, and bell peppers. Eggs, liver, and fortified foods such as milk and cereals are also good sources of this nutrient.
- Vitamin C is responsible for the growth and repair of tissues in the body. It is also an antioxidant that fights damaging free radicals. While it is known to potentially shorten the duration of the common cold, not much is known about its effects on the coronavirus disease. It can be found in citrus fruits such as lemons, lime, and oranges, as well as other fruits and vegetables including guava, tomatoes, sweet peppers, strawberries, mango, and cauliflower.
- Vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increased proneness to infection. About 40% of the US population is deficient in this important nutrient. Fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, eggs, dairy products, and fortified foods such as non-dairy milk, orange juice, and some cereals are all good sources of vitamin D.
- Zinc is a key player in immune function and helps to heal wounds. Deficiency is rare, but some evidence suggests that zinc lozenges may help to reduce the duration of the common cold. Zinc can be found in animal proteins, beans, nuts, and tofu.
Ideally these nutrients should come from foods, but if you are concerned that your diet is not adequate you can speak to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian about taking a supplement.