How are you doing these days? No, really – HOW ARE YOU?

With a constant influx of information, paired with hightened emotions it can be difficut to remain centered and calm. As we all learn to navigate this new situation we currently find ourselves in, it’s important to assess and use every tool we have in our toolbox to reduce infections, deaths and suffering. It reminds me of the airplain oxygen mask – we need to take care of ourselves first before we can take care of another.

What role can food and nutrition play?

While our diet can’t prevent us from contracting a virus, it can influence how our body reacts and deals with it. Our immune system can be supported with certain nutrients, while lack of these may lead to less effective immune response and higher susceptibility to infection.

When we take care of our health and support our immune system, we might not need hospitalization, thus leaving room for those in dire need.

If we consider ourselves responsible citizens, then now it is ever so important to take care of our health and adopt healthy eating habits.

Lack of nutrients can lead to malnourishment, which increases the risk of becoming ill, as well as the duration of an illness.

Taking control of the food we consume

Staying at home gives us the opportunity to reassess our eating habits, and to take back control over the food we consume and how it is prepared.

Below are some nutrients that help support the proper funciton of the immune system. You will also find food examples for each nutrient, so that you can start adding a variety of health and immune-supportive foods, in an easy and quick way.

5 key nutrients that help support the immune system

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant and it helps improve immune function. This nutrient is involved in cellular immune response and provides defence against multiple infectious diseases.

Foods rich in vitamin A

Pre-formed vitamin A (retinol) is the main animal source vitamin A. It is found in high concentrations in liver and fish liver oil, as well as egg yolk and milk products. Provitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene, is found in bright orange and yellow foods, like sweet potato, mango, carrots, and bell peppers, and dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli.

2. Vitamin C

Probably the most known antioxidant, this nutrient is known for its role in supporting and “boosting” the immune system. While many might be supplementing mega doses of this nutrient, research shows, that vitamin C from food at a dose of 100mg to 200mg per day is effective at preventing respiratory infections. (1)

Foods rich in vitamin C

Citrus fruits – oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines, and grapefruits are great sources of this nutrient, but also rose hips, acerola cherries, papaya, strawberries. Good vegetable sources include red and green bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus, parsley, dark leafy greens, cauliflower and cabbage. Remember vitamin C can be lost with heat so use steaming or consume foods raw.

3. Vitamin E

This nutrient plays an important role in immune function and supplementation has been shown to reduce respiratory infection in the elderly (2). Deficiency symptoms are subtle so you might not know you’re deficient, but adequate dietary intake it can be corrected.

Foods rich in vitamin E

Nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and cold-pressed plant-based oils used in salad dressings are a good way to get this important nutrient.

4. Selenium

This essential mineral acts as a powerful antioxidant. Selenium is required for the function of the immune system. “Selenium and vitamin E work together synergistically in that they carry out antioxidant and immunostimulating functions better together than individually, but their mechanisms of action are probably not the same.” (Elson M.Haas) Falling short on selenium can have serious consequences when it comes to fighting infections. (3)

Foods rich in selenium

Soil levels of selenium vary greatly from country to country, so the selenium content in foods can very greatly according to the soil levels. Brazil nuts are high in selenium but watch the amount you consume as you can easily exceed the daily upper limit and cause toxicity if eaten frequently. Sardines are a good source, additionally to providing healthy omega-3 fats, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Brewer’s year and wheat germ are good sources too. Other foods that contain selenium include oats, whole wheat, shellfish, garlic, onions, mushroom, broccoli and mustard seeds.

5. Zinc

An essential mineral critical for immune function. Zinc improves antibody response and can improve cell-mediated immunity by helping regulate the function of the white blood cells (Elon M. Haas). Adequate dietary zinc should be emphasized for anyone looking to protect their immune system.

Foods rich in zinc

Oysters are particularly high in this mineral, with more than 10 times as much as other sources. Keep in mind that oysters are also high in copper and possibly in ocean-polluting chemicals and metals. Herring, egg yolk, beef are animal sources of zinc. Whole grains, such as rye, oats and whole wheat are also good sources of zinc. Pumpkin seeds, pecans and Brazil nuts are other sources of this mineral.

Our food choices and the meals we consume daily can help strenghten our immune system and prevent nutrient deficiencies, that might take more effort to reverse later on. What you choose to consume on a daily basis has a cumulative effect that is either health or ill promoting.

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