Having a healthy immune system is important all the time — but especially during COVID-19. One way to support and strengthen your immunity is to eat high-nutrient foods. Valerie Schulz is a registered dietitian nutritionist and faculty member in the Department of Health Sciences. She provides this week’s COVID-19 health tip:
Foods that contain high levels of vitamins A, C, D and E all support your immune system in different ways. Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and keeps tissues, such as those of the respiratory track, healthy. So, choose foods like broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes and items fortified with vitamin A, such as milk.
While vitamin D is commonly associated with bone health, it also plays a powerful role in stimulating immune cells that find and destroy disease-causing invaders like viruses. Fatty fish like salmon, sardines and trout, and vitamin D fortified foods, like milk and some cereals, provide this nutrient. We also get vitamin D from sensible sun exposure. While sunblock is important in protecting our skin from harmful rays, it also blocks the rays needed for vitamin D production. So be smart about your skin’s exposure to the sun’s rays and limit your unprotected time outdoors.
Nutrients with antioxidant potential, such as vitamins C and E, help protect cells from oxidative stress. Bell peppers, strawberries, kiwi and citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, provide good amounts of vitamin C. Vitamin E can be found in nuts such as almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts.
The mineral selenium works with vitamins C and E to protect cells from oxidative stress. This mineral can be found in Brazil nuts, mushrooms, whole grains, and certain fish (like salmon, sardines and tuna) as well as plant foods like chia, walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
Plant nutrients provide another source of immune system protection. Sweet potatoes, dark chocolate and berries (blackberries, blueberries and raspberries) provide antioxidants that the body uses to keep your immune system healthy and fend off diseases and infections.
Spices, such as turmeric, ginger and garlic have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties too, so add these to your meals for nutrition and great flavor.
While getting enough of these immune-supporting nutrients is important, many other nutrients play a role in keeping you healthy. So, for maximum benefit, remember to eat a variety of foods from each of the groups every day.