COVID-19 has dominated our lives since it showed up over a year ago. To date over 500,000 Americans have lost their lives to this infectious disease making COVID one of the leading causes of death in 2020. Inflammation has been implicated in the severity of illness. Vaccination efforts are ramping up but many people are still at risk of getting infected and we are months away from being able to breathe easy. Studies indicate that nutrients we get from eating whole, plant foods just may hold the key to a more resilient immune system and reducing inflammation. Optimal nutrition and dietary nutrient intake impacts the immune system and puts the body in the proper state to fight infection.
With that said, here are some hard facts. 90% of Americans have at least one nutrient deficiency, yet only 1 in 10 of us eat enough fruits and vegetables to meet nutrient needs. Nutrients like vitamin A, C, D, B complex, zinc, iron, selenium and omega 3 fatty acids are integral in supporting a healthy immune system and reducing inflammation. When your cells are experiencing inflammation you are more susceptible to a COVID infection and will contribute to the severity of the disease. A healthy diet that controls inflammation ensures a functioning immune system.
The foods we choose to eat can either be inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. The standard American Diet which includes highly processed foods, sugary beverages and lots of eating out is highly inflammatory putting us at risk. A plant rich diet such as the Mediterranean Diet which includes olive oil, fish, honey, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and herbs are rich in polyphenols, vitamins, minerals and fiber and is anti-inflammatory.
While there is no single food or nutrient to prevent, heal or treat COVID all nutrients obtained from nutrient dense foods work together to create a healthy body and a healthy immune system.
So how do we build a resilient immune system? We are what we eat! The nutrients we get from whole foods provide the building blocks for all the processes that occur in our bodies. Here are a few and how they function to keep us healthy.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A helps to reduce inflammation and functions as an antioxidant. Inflammation makes us more susceptible to illness and infection. Some foods that are good sources of vitamin A are eggs, cheese, milk and yogurt, red and yellow fruits and vegetables.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that strongly supports the immune system by helping the body fight infections. It can also reduce the risk, the severity, and duration of many infections. Good sources of vitamin C are peppers, citrus fruits, and strawberries.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E also helps decrease inflammation in the cells while also protecting them so they can function properly. Some food sources of vitamin E are nuts, seeds and plant oils.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps the body protect against respiratory infections, has an anti-inflammatory effect and is essential for bone health. Food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish, egg yolk, and fortified foods like dairy and cereals.
- Selenium: Selenium can inhibit the entrance of viruses into the cells. A deficiency in selenium is associated with inflammation in the body. Dietary sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, fish, meat, and eggs.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids not only help fight inflammation, but some studies show they may help with interference of entry and replication of viruses in the body. Fatty fish, walnuts, and plant oils.
- Zinc: Zinc helps your immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. Your body relies on zinc for wound healing and your ability to taste and smell. However, zinc is a micronutrient that has a small gap between an adequate dose and a harmful one. It is recommended that you get your zinc through food sources and not supplements. Food sources of zinc include meats, yogurt, and cashews.
- Copper: Copper helps to decrease inflammation in the body. Copper deficiency is linked to higher rates of infection. It can be found in foods like nuts and shellfish.
- Magnesium: Magnesium works with copper and zinc to help reduce inflammation in the body. Magnesium can be found in spinach, nuts, and whole grains.
- Iron: Iron is used by the body to help defend against respiratory infections and helps in oxygenating blood. Iron can be found in dark, leafy greens, beans, and nuts.
- Phytochemicals: Phytochemicals are the chemicals found in plants such as polyphenols and antioxidants. There are thousands of phytochemicals in your fruits and vegetables. Phytochemicals have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Good sources of polyphenols are berries, nuts, vegetables, and beans.
Changing our health habits isn’t always easy. Working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help you build a plan that works in your life and to start achieving those goals!
Stephanie Espinoza, MA, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
The Nutrition Professionals | nutritionpro.net
The Nutrition Professionals is a team of registered dietitian nutritionists who provide evidence based medical nutrition therapy to improve health through improved nutrition. We assess the nutrition and lifestyle needs of our clients and develop an individualized plan that achieves specified health goals.