With a worldwide pandemic changing our day to day lives and a return to normalcy feeling far away, it has never been more important to have a strong immune system. It seems that a million new ads are promoting a superfood supplement or miracle vitamin that will boost your immune system. While sometimes supplements are recommended (remember to speak with your doctor or dietitian before beginning any supplement regimen), the best source of nutrients and immune support is found naturally in the foods you eat daily! With so much uncertainty during this time, here are a few things you can do to support your immune system.
#1 Eat the Produce Rainbow
And no, I do not mean skittles. Fruits & vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant-derived compounds) that have many health benefits, including healthy aging and immune support. Phytonutrients may also act as antiviral agents. Each color of a fruit or vegetable indicates different phytonutrients found in the plant. For example, the dark blue color seen in blackberries and eggplant is from the phytonutrient group anthocyanins. Each phytonutrient has unique health benefits, so put together a multi-colored plate!
#2 Increase your micronutrients!
While many nutrients play a role in building a health immune system, these are a few key nutrients that support your immune health; Vitamin C, Vitamin D3 & Zinc.
Vitamin C is needed for the body to form cartilage, muscle, and collagen in bones. Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron and supports a healthy immune system. When the body is fighting a foreign pathogen, Vitamin C effectively protects the body’s cells from getting damaged in the process. Though daily intake of Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration of colds, there is no evidence of added benefits once cold-like symptoms have occurred.
Food sources of Vitamin C:
-Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, kiwi)
Vitamin D is known for helping your body absorb calcium and also enables you to ward off disease. Vitamin D3 is the form of Vitamin D that your body makes when exposed to sunlight. Getting adequate Vitamin D is important in the winter months when it is hard to get adequate sun exposure. When selecting a Vitamin D supplement, note that vitamin D3 increases serum blood levels more effectively than vitamin D2 supplements. Remember to speak with your doctor or dietitian before starting any supplement. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so including some fat, like olive oil or nuts, within the same meal can aid in absorption.
Food Sources of Vitamin D:
-Fatty fish like salmon
This mineral is critical for the normal development & function of cells. Without enough of this nutrient, the body’s immune cell function is impaired when creating oxidants that fight invading pathogens. Zinc helps maintain the integrity of your immune system!
Food sources of Zinc:
-Shellfish (oysters, crab, lobster)
#3 Get Adequate Sleep
When I say adequate, I’m talking about quality! A good night’s sleep improves overall health in many ways, like reducing blood pressure and the production of stress hormones. Poor quality sleep can increase stress, inflammation, and your risk of getting sick, so prioritize your much-needed zzz’s! The Mayo Clinic recommends 7-9 hours per night, and the rule of “too much is never good”, applies to sleep as well! Aiming for quality, uninterrupted sleep is key here.
Drink up! The adult body is roughly 60% water. Staying hydrated is needed for flushing out toxins, waste management, energy maintenance, and the list goes on! Water is especially necessary for transporting nutrients to our organ systems. Hydration is vital for ensuring all our systems work, especially the immune system. If you feel thirsty, you're most likely already dehydrated, so it’s important to be drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day. One way to do this is by keeping a reusable water bottle on you at all times and finding a water flavor enhancer you enjoy.
It is important to remember that daily nutrient intake is necessary, and too much of anything usually will cause more problems than it solves. Optimal nutrition is an important stepping stone to achieving optimal health and a strong immune system.
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