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Nutrition Notes: Can Good Nutrition Strengthen My Immunity?

Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDNKaren Lentner, MA, RD, LDNDuring the coronavirus, do you find yourself looking for ways to keep yourself healthy? Currently there’s not a vaccine or food that is guaranteed to protect you from coronavirus, but there are ways to keep your immune system working optimally to help you stay healthy during these times. We’ve heard about washing our hands, avoiding contact with sick individuals, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and being physically active; but good nutrition is also critical for good health. A healthful, balanced diet is necessary to keep our immune system strong, and eating a variety of foods is the key to good nutrition.

We’ve heard about washing our hands, avoiding contact with sick individuals, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and being physically active; but good nutrition is also critical for good health.

The nutrients your body needs include protein, to build and preserve body tissues and strength and to fight viruses or infections.  Protein sources include lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and yogurt. Consider plant-based sources, especially if you’re finding meat to be more limited at this time. Nuts and nut butters, beans, lentils, tofu, hummus, and quinoa are excellent options. Try to incorporate protein sources into each meal or snack throughout the day.

Antioxidants, vitamins and minerals can also boost immune function. Beta carotene helps antibodies fight toxins and reduce inflammation. Sources include green leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and cantaloupe.

Vitamin C and E are antioxidants that protect your cells and support immune response. Sources include oranges, grapefruit, red and green peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and strawberries. 

Vitamin D may help reduce your risk for viral and respiratory infections. The best source of natural vitamin D is obtained outdoors in the sunshine. Food sources include egg yolks, cheese, mushrooms, tofu, salmon and fortified milk, soymilk, orange juice, and cereals. 

Probiotics and prebiotics help boost the health of our microbiome (our gut). They help digest food, destroy disease causing microorganisms, and keep your immune system healthy. Food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, fermented pickles and sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and sourdough bread.  Prebiotic rich foods include asparagus, garlic, apple cider vinegar, onions, berries, bananas, and whole grains. 

Zinc is a mineral that has been helpful in shortening the duration of the common cold and boosting immunity. Sources include beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, seeds, beef, pork, and yogurt. 

Other foods that have shown benefits in boosting the immune system include blueberries, ginger, turmeric, garlic, elderberry, and green tea. 

With summer approaching, consider buying many of the foods listed at a local farmers market. Find a farmers market near you at massfarmersmarkets.org

Remember to stay hydrated! Water, fruits, and soups all provide necessary fluids to stay hydrated and healthy.  Try to consume at least 6 to 8 cups of fluid every day.

If you find yourself craving comfort foods at this time, especially those with high sugar or fat content, try to limit the amounts, if you feel able. Be mindful of the foods you are eating and limit those that provide mostly calories and limited nutritional value.

In these uncertain times, take care of yourself. Plan your meals and snacks using foods listed above, try to maintain a healthy weight, and enjoy the bounty of the season. Consider Grab and Go meals from one of our dining centers or call LifePath to set up Meals on Wheels at 413-773-5555.