FEATURE — As we venture forward into an uncertain world in the face of a pandemic, there are universal recommendations that can reduce the spread and risk of infection.
In addition to washing our hands, social distancing, wearing a mask and avoiding large groups, there are ways to keep yourself healthy on the inside, especially when it comes to nutrition.
Despite what those infomercials tell you, there are no miracle foods or pills. Everything you need for a well-balanced, healthy diet can be found at your nearest grocery store.
We need protein in order to build and repair our bodies. It can be found in lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and legumes. Protein shakes and powders don’t provide the additional vitamins and minerals that come with real foods.
Lean meats and plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds offer zinc; a mineral that helps maintain your immune cells and aids in wound healing. Fish and eggs contain choline, which assists in the maintenance of brain cells which may improve memory and cognition as well as reducing the risk of ischemic stroke.
Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits every day, in meals and for snacks. Aside from being virtually fat-free and full of fiber, vegetables and fruits are one of the best natural sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin C is known for its immune system-boosting qualities, from shortening the duration of the common cold to stimulating the formation of antibodies to fight off disease. Our bodies cannot make or store vitamin C, so it is important to eat vitamin C-rich vegetables and fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and red bell peppers.
Vitamin A helps your body regulate its own immune system, protects against infection and promotes good eye and skin health. Sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, red bell peppers and spinach are good sources of vitamin A.
Dairy products are fortified with vitamins A and D and naturally contain calcium, which our bodies need for strong bones and teeth (calcium also helps with blood pressure regulation). For an added benefit, choose low-fat or fat-free yogurt. Make sure the label says “contains live and active cultures” and is low in sugar. Yogurt contains probiotics – beneficial bacteria that help maintain good digestive health.
Having a healthy gut is critical to a healthy immune system. If dairy products are something you avoid or can’t eat, look for the many dairy alternatives available such as soy or almond “milk-like” products. They should be fortified to give you the health benefits of dairy.
Finally, stay hydrated with plenty of water. Our bodies are 60% to 70% water, which aids in every bodily function: eating, digestion, muscle movement, even our heartbeat and breathing! When your body is fighting off an illness or infection, your need for water actually increases to aid in flushing bacteria and other toxins.
Paying attention to these nutritional principles to help protect your immunity now will also create a healthier future, long after the pandemic is over.
Written by MARY ORLOSKI, Southwest Utah Public Health Department Registered Dietician and WIC Director.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of HEALTH Magazine.
Copyright © Southwest Utah Public Health Foundation, all rights reserved.