We can take active steps to boost our immune systems and possibly prevent illness, simply through the foods we choose to eat. There are some key nutrients we want to be sure to include in our diets which can help our bodies to fight off different illnesses.
Did you know that having low vitamin D increases your risk of having a severe case of COVID-19? It’s true. The good news is our bodies can actually make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun. Living in the northern states means we really only see a lot of sunshine in the summer months so there is no time like the present to get outside and reap the benefits of good ol sunshine. A good starting point would be somewhere between 5-30 minutes of midday sunshine a few times per week. The time spent should be balanced with a person’s sensitivity to sun and avoiding sunburn. People with darker skin and those that are older will require more time in the sun to generate vitamin D. Of course, we can also get vitamin D from food and supplements and these become all the more important during the low-light months of late fall, winter and early spring. The best sources of vitamin D include salmon (especially sockeye), trout, cod liver oil, sardines, tuna, and fortified milk or yogurt.
Boost your vitamin D with this super easy recipe for salmon patties.
What’s so great about zinc? Well, zinc is a mineral that has proven it’s worth when it comes to helping our body combat other viruses. Zinc helps us to fight infections, reduces the duration of symptoms and helps prevent pathogens from entering our bodies through our lungs. So what foods contain zinc? Shellfish (like crab, shrimp and mussels), meat (like beef and lamb), pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and lentils.
Vitamin A is vital for immune health for a number of reasons. It keeps our skin, our gut and our respiratory tract strong and intact so germs can’t enter our bodies. Vitamin A also helps our immune cells to function properly and is necessary for the production of antibodies. In studies, Vitamin A deficiency has led to increased rates of infectious diseases. You can find vitamin A in foods that have orange/yellow flesh like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and winter squash, leafy greens, bell peppers, cantaloupe, apricots and mango, beef liver and cod liver oil.
Here’s an amazing butternut squash soup video + recipe.
This stuffed acorn squash would be perfect for Thanksgiving (video + recipe).
The always delicious curried butternut squash and potato (video + recipe).
Classic baked winter squash, no cutting needed (video + recipe).
Did you know that upwards of 70% of your immune system is based in your gut? This is why keeping the digestive tract in tip top shape is so important for overall health. One way to support your gut is through probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and yeasts that live in the digestive tract. When it comes to gut bugs, we want lots of good guys so they can keep the bad guys in check and prevent them from causing problems like illness and infections. Probiotics can also help digest foods, provide essential vitamins and may even help with recurring gut issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms like pain/cramping, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, fermented soy products like miso and tempeh, some soft cheeses, raw/unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, and refrigerated pickles. To be sure the food item contains probiotics, look for the label that says “contains live and active cultures”.
Vitamin C is probably the most well known immune support vitamin. If vitamin C makes you think of citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, you’d be correct, those are excellent sources. But did you know red and green peppers, broccoli and kiwi have loads of vitamin C too? Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means it protects the cells of our body from harmful molecules, limiting inflammation and tissue damage. Vitamin C also stimulates our bodies to produce immune cells. Vitamin C is destroyed by heat and cooking and levels are reduced when food is older or wilted so fresh, raw fruits and veggies will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to vitamin C.
Try these refreshing drinks and salads, loaded with vitamin C.
Grapefruit sparkler mocktail (recipe + video)
Fruit infused citrus splash (recipe + video)
Sunny citrus salad (recipe + video)
Delicious fruity side salad (video)
I hope this information helps you to feel empowered and hopeful. By including these foods and nutrients into our diet we can support our bodies so they function at their best.
Elisa Rocks, RDN