What foods support the immune system?
As more people are confirmed to have COVID-19, I see more and more articles about how to boost immunity with foods. Even though I’m a dietitian, sometimes all the information gets overwhelming and I have to take a step back and think about if, and how, I want to incorporate it into my diet.
I ask myself
Is this a reliable source?
I don’t have time for the latest fads; I want to know what actually has been shown to work. Yesterday morning I read a nicely written article, “How to strengthen your immunity to coronavirus. Part 1: Diet” from CNN. However, after searching several other sources, I found that although the information in the article appears to be correct, it wasn’t complete.
As I was piecing together as much current and reliable evidence as I could regarding diet and immunity, I came across this excellent infograph from Oregon State University, “Nutrition and the Immune System.” I highly recommend it if you want to learn a little about how nutrition affects the immune system as well as see a list of nutrients and foods that can support immunity.
What foods do I actually need to eat to support my immune system?
There are nutrients/foods linked to immune function. Here’s a list of nutrients and some foods:
o EPA + DHA—herring, salmon, sardines, tuna, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil
o Vitamin A—salmon, leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits
o Vitamin C—citrus fruits and juices, many fruits and vegetables
o Vitamin D—salmon, tuna, fortified milk, fortified juice, fortified cereal
o Vitamin E—almonds, wheat germ, sunflower oil
o Folate—legumes, spinach, nuts, fruits and fruit juices, enriched bread and cereals
o Vitamin B12—clams, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, nutritional yeasts
o Vitamin B6—poultry, fish, starchy vegetables like potatoes
o Zinc—oysters, red meat, poultry, legumes, nuts, dairy
o Iron—meat, seafood, poultry, fortified cereals and breads, legumes, spinach, raisins
o Copper—oysters, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds, chocolate, whole grain products
o Selenium—seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, grains
o Water (not in the infograph but important to maintain cellular function and rid the body of wastes and toxins)
You don’t need to eat every food that’s listed to have a healthy immune system. If you start including some of them (or continue to do so if you already are) then you’re likely doing your immune system a favor.
Can I even get some of these foods right now when supplies of some foods are low or sporadic?
Use what you have. Go through your pantry, refrigerator, freezer and see if you have any of the items and start incorporating those, if you’re not already. Identify any foods you’d like to eat more of and see if they’re available next time you can get groceries. Again, anything you do to make healthy choices is better than doing nothing.
How are people supposed figure out how to change their diets when they feel completely overwhelmed by all the changes taking place?
If you’re overwhelmed, make things as simple as possible. Here are a few ideas for quick meals or snacks that include some of the foods that may support immune function:
o Tuna salad sandwich on whole grain bread with dried mango on the side
o Boiled egg, yogurt, orange
o Trail mix--include foods such as nuts and seeds, dried mango and apricots, whole grain cereal like Cheerios
o Bean soup (or any type of legume soup—split pea, black bean, lentils, pinto beans for example)
o Baked sweet potato (can be cooked in microwave to save time) with 1 Tbsp butter or sour cream, spinach and orange salad with nuts/seeds
o Salad with a mix of vegetables from list above and chickpeas, nuts or seeds
Don’t forget to stay hydrated throughout the day; water is important for immune system health and for energy levels and mental clarity.
Stay safe and healthy!
Lisa Drayer, CNN, “How to strengthen your immunity to coronavirus. Part 1: Diet.” https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/25/health/immunity-diet-food-coronavirus-drayer-wellness/index.html, accessed on 3/25/2020.
Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, “Nutrition and the Immune System,” https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/sites/lpi.oregonstate.edu/files/lpi-immunity-infographic_0.pdf , accessed on 3/26/2020.
National Institutes of Health, “Dietary Supplements Fact Sheets,” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/ , accessed on 3/26/2020.