Eat Well, Fight Well: Nutrition Tips During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Eat Well, Fight Well: Nutrition Tips During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Shelly Yu Poppy Life Care Nutritional Program Manager

We know the importance of hand washing, physical distancing and wearing face masks to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. Can good nutrition make a difference in the power of your immune system? The answer is a big YES!

Here are some tips to help you strengthen your immune system:

Eat Nutrient-Rich Foods

As tempting as it is to fall back on packaged foods or “heat and eat” prepared meals, it’s worth the effort to prepare foods that you know are nutrient rich and beneficial for your immune system.

1. Colorful Fruits & Vegetables

The best foods to support the immune system are those that are high in antioxidants, which protect our bodies from cell damage and harmful levels of inflammation.

Antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E can be found in many foods but are especially plentiful in brightly colored fruits and vegetables.  Colorful vegetables such as spinach, bell peppers, citrus fruits, berries and sweet potatoes, are full of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin E is also an important protector of the immune system and can be found in a variety of seeds and nuts.

Vegetables usually are not something you crave, especially for young kids. So in order to get the five to nine recommended servings per day, you can add them to a breakfast omelet or breakfast wrap, and add fruits to oatmeal. Be creative!

2. Lean Protein

Protein plays an important role in building up immune system cells and antibodies.Most cells in your immune system are made up of proteins. The antibodies that help fight diseases, like immunoglobulins, are made of proteins. Cells rely on new protein synthesis to function and multiply. Protein is also actively involved in healing and recovery after illness.

Go for lean protein over high-fat protein, The USDA defines a lean protein source as having less than 10 grams of total fat (4.5 grams or less from saturated fat), and fewer than 95 milligrams of cholesterol in a 3.5-ounce serving. Plant-based protein, such as beans, nuts and seeds, are great options for lean proteins.  Animal-based protein, such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, eggs and fish are good sources, too.

3. Zinc

Without zinc, a person can be more susceptible to disease and illness. Zinc helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses by promoting the production of infection-fighting white blood cells.

Many common foods contain zinc, including lean meats such as chicken and turkey, some seafoods such as crab and oyster, whole grains and dairy, such as cheese and milk.

4. Probiotics & Prebiotics

When your digestive system works hard processing all those nutritious foods throughout the day, it is very critical to a strong immune system.

Most of your immune-boosting activity starts in the gut, with naturally occurring healthy bacteria fighting off bad bacteria. It’s important to boost the healthy bacteria with probiotics, while also providing that healthy bacteria the fuel it needs with prebiotics.

Many fermented food products contain natural probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, and kombucha, etc. If you can’t tolerate these foods, you may want to take a probiotic supplement once daily. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers of fruit and veggies, beans and whole grains.

Choose Whole Foods Over Supplements

While there are many nutritional supplements to choose from today, if you are eating well-balanced diets rich in nutrients, you generally don’t need to take supplements. Supplements cannot replace all the nutritional benefits you get from whole foods. When you get your nutrition from whole foods, all those nutrients work together synergistically to help your body better absorb nutrients. So instead of taking a vitamin C supplement, eat an orange, because the orange contains other important components like phytochemicals and fiber.

When you don’t eat as well as you should, then it might be a good idea to take supplements. A general multivitamin supplement is good, especially when you aren’t eating a balanced diet.  Take only the recommended dose; you don’t need mega quantities unless your health provider suggests you do.  Vitamin D is the other supplement which plays an important role in regulating immune function but hard to get enough in natural foods.

Remember, Try to get what your body needs from whole foods as much as you can; it is the best choice.

Stay Hydrated

Don’t forget to pay attention to proper hydration to keep your immune system functioning at the optimal level. Our immune system is highly dependent on the nutrients in our bloodstream, and our bloodstream is made mostly of water. If we don’t have enough water, we cannot properly transport nutrients among our organs. Staying well hydrated also increases lymphatic draining and ensures that we are clearing out any foreign invaders and other waste materials.

How much water to drink each day depends on a number of factors, such as activity levels and body weight. The most common recommendation is eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Beverages such as no-sugar-added drinks, sparkling water, tea, and juice also count as good choices for fluids.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is very important to support your body in fighting viruses but having an optimally functioning immune system takes multiple approaches, including avoiding smoking, getting enough sleep and managing stress effectively. The more you can do to support your body’s immune system, the better your immune system can support you to fight viruses.

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