In today’s times, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, many are asking themselves if what we eat can help prevent illness. While it is not realistic to think that food intake alone can prevent diseases, healthy eating is an important component of boosting your immunity. Our immune system, which is our first line of defense in fighting diseases, is a complex system that can be enhanced, or weakened, by many of our lifestyle choices.
So, what can you do to support your immune system and boost your body’s natural defenses?
Eat a balanced and varied diet.
This means eating a wide variety of foods from the 5 main food groups: Protein, Fruit, Vegetables, Fruit, Dairy. A balanced diet gives your body the nutrients and energy it needs to function correctly. Deficiencies of key nutrients, such as vitamin A, B, C and E, and zinc, iron, and selenium can weaken parts of your immune system. Current recommendations suggest that a healthy plate should contain primarily vegetables (aim for at least half your plate), fruits, some lean protein, and some dairy (or daily alternative).
Consume at least 5 fruits and vegetables per day.
As a dietitian, I frequently tout this as one of the most impactful dietary habits that people should ensure they are doing, yet most Americans are falling short. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables has been linked with reduction in heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, improved digestive health, and can help with maintaining a healthy weight. Fresh, frozen, and canned can all count towards your “5 A Day.” Be sure to include fruits and vegetables at each of your mealtimes.
Limit highly processed foods, such as cakes, cookies, chips, fast food, frozen entrees, and processed meats like sausages and deli meats.
These foods typically have poorer nutritional quality and can often take the place of more nutritious options. Foods can go through various levels of processing. Sometimes simple processing of foods can be beneficial by making foods more conveni
ent and easier to use. For example, vegetables may be cleaned, cut, and portioned into bags to be sold, or made into salsa. However, highly processed foods and drinks tend to be high in added sugar, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy types of fats. If your diet includes a significant amount of processed foods, try to: eat them less often; eat them in smaller amounts; replace them with healthier options.
With so much that we can’t control in the world right now, you can evaluate how your diet stacks up in these key areas and make necessary changes to maximize your immune health. If you have special dietary needs, or require additional support, seek the assistance of a registered dietitian, who can provide you with an assessment of your diet and individualized guidance.
Stay tuned for our blog post next month where we will highlight how schools we work with are implementing these immune boosting diet recommendations into the menus provided for their students, despite the new hurdles that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in school food service.