First and foremost, remember that food is the foundation for our health. With a healthy diet, you can get all the nutrients you need to support your immune system. Especially now in this unprecedented time of uncertainty, it’s even more important than ever to ensure our immune systems are in good working order. We know that adequate sleep and stress management are important to boosting immunity, but equally as important are the foods we eat on a daily basis.
There are 5 key nutrients we can get from the foods we eat which can help support a healthy immune system:
1) Vitamin A - An antioxidant known to enhance immune function because of its role in cellular immune response. More than ever now, it’s important to include foods rich in Vitamin A in your diet. Include fruits and vegetables that are bright orange or yellow in color, and although not orange or yellow, leafy greens are also a good source. A fun fact about leafy greens is that they are actually orange underneath, but the green is covering up that orange!
2) Vitamin C - Deficiency can result in impaired immune function and thus higher susceptibility to infection. Studies have shown that prophylactic prevention of infection requires dietary intake of 100-200 mg/day of Vitamin C, while treatment of infection may require higher doses (1). Be sure to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet to get your daily dose of Vitamin C.
3) Vitamin E - Found in higher amounts in immune cells than in other cells in the blood, Vitamin E is one of the most effective nutrients to help with immune function. Although typical diets may not provide adequate amounts of Vitamin E, symptoms of deficiency are subtle and may go unnoticed. It is possible, however, to get the Vitamin E we need from the diet alone, without the need for supplementation. Be sure to include dietary sources of Vitamin E, like oils, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables in your daily intake.
4) Zinc - Another antioxidant and anti inflammatory nutrient, zinc, in even mild deficiency can lower our immune response, which could be detrimental to overall health (and exercise). We need adequate zinc to protect immunity, and while supplements are popular, know that you can easily get enough zinc through the foods you eat. Dietary sources include: whole grains, fortified cereals, nuts/seeds, fish, poultry and red meat.
5) Selenium - An essential mineral, selenium acts as a powerful antioxidant. Adequate selenium is needed for proper function of our immune system. Not getting enough through our diet can make it hard for our bodies to fight infection. Like Vitamins A, C, and E, we can find selenium in foods so there is no need for supplementation. Some common dietary sources are: sunflower seeds, mushrooms, fish/shellfish, meat, eggs, and milk. Brazil nuts are also a source, however, due to their high content of selenium, eating too many can exceed the upper dietary limit which could be toxic.
In addition to ensuring adequacy of these 5 key nutrients, also good to know with regard to boosting immunity is that exercise in moderate amounts can enhance our overall immunity, so it’s important to continue getting your daily activity in. Be sure to get enough sleep, rest, and recovery between training sessions, especially if you‘re training for an endurance or ultra-endurance event. Prolonged training can increase our risk of upper respiratory infection if we are not giving our bodies adequate rest and recovery between training sessions.
Now for the hard part.....how to plan meals that include these five key nutrients. Not to worry! Contact me and I’ll help you get creatively inspired in the kitchen during this crazy quarantine and on your way to boosting your immunity from the foods you eat. You don’t have to keep eating the same foods everyday!
In Healthy Eating,