Eating to Stay Strong through COVID and Beyond

Eating to Stay Strong

Eating to Stay Strong through COVID and Beyond

The best defense against COVID-19 and other illnesses is to actively prevent viruses, bacteria, etc. from making us sick. Masks and social distancing in relation to COVID-19 help with that, but there’s more we can do. Our immune system has many different parts inside (skin) and out (different cells, tissues, and structures throughout the body that identify and fight invaders). What we eat and drink has a big impact on how healthy we keep our immune system and how it works for us.

Get a Variety of Foods into Your Diet

Eating a variety of foods regularly, especially healthier foods, goes a long way in supporting the immune system. Although vitamin and mineral supplements are useful to treat a deficiency and likely won’t hurt otherwise, aiming to get nutrients through food is better.  Our bodies prefer getting vitamins and minerals from food rather than supplements because other substances in food help the absorption and use of vitamins and minerals. 

Specific Nutrients Support the Immune System

Some nutrients in particular help the immune system work as it should. Beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body, acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants help prevent or delay damage to cells, including in certain cancers and heart disease. They also promote healthy aging. Beta-carotene is found in mangos, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and tomatoes. Vitamin C is another nutrient found in produce that acts as an antioxidant. It also helps regulate the immune system and stimulate antibody formation to fight against viruses, etc. Vitamin C works hard by also growing, repairing, and healing tissue throughout the body. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, melons, kiwi, berries, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, and Brussels sprouts.

Vitamins D and E support the immune system by triggering certain immune cells to work and supporting immune function, respectively. Vitamin E also works as an antioxidant. Sunlight hitting the skin causes vitamin D production and it’s found in fatty fish (like salmon), eggs, and fortified foods like orange juice if labeled as such. Vitamin E is found in sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils, hazelnuts, peanut butter, and fortified cereals if labeled as such. Finally, protein and mineral zinc both help the healing process and are found in similar foods—nuts, seeds, beans, tofu, seafood, poultry, and beef.  Protein also is found in significant amounts in milk, yogurt, cheese, pork, and eggs.‚Äč

Drink More Water, Maybe Not as Much Alcohol

What we drink is important, too—the better hydrated the human body is, the better the immune system works. For example, the immune system relies on nutrients that are transported through the blood which is largely made up of water. Being hydrated also allows for the lymph system, which is part of the immune system, to work properly. The lymph system needs adequate fluid to produce disease-fighting cells, destroy waste products (like viruses), and continually reintroduce lost fluid back into the bloodstream to maintain the body’s fluid levels.

Water is best for hydration because the body does not need to do anything to it before using it, but any drinks can help hydrate us, except for alcohol. Alcohol intake above recommendation actually can depress the immune system, plus cause dehydration. The recommendation for health for men is two drinks per day or less, and for women is one drink per day or less. Even caffeinated drinks help hydrate—a consistent, daily amount of caffeine won’t cause dehydration.  Drink when you’re thirsty, drink more in hot/dry weather, and make sure your urine is a light lemon-yellow color for optimal hydration. Our kidneys concentrate urine when we’re not well hydrated, making urine darker. Remember that some medicines, supplements, and food can change the color of urine.

The next time you’re grocery shopping, remember to get a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, plus different lean proteins, to ensure that you’re supporting your immune system as much as possible. Drink plenty of water and go lightly on the alcohol.  Importantly, make sure you get plenty of sleep each night to give your body enough down-time to fight off disease, repair itself, and rejuvenate for the next day.