As we go into the winter months and illness chances increase, what can I do to boost my immune system?
Your question is on the minds of many consumers, as more people have been reaching for vitamin supplements and seeking out healthy foods to improve their immune system amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 77% of consumers say they want to eat healthier to boost their immunity during the pandemic, according to a study by Archer Daniels Midland, a Chicago-based, food-processing company.
Building and maintaining a healthy immune system starts with focusing on good nutrition, said Beth Stefura, a family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
“Our body’s ability to fight infection and disease depends on our immune system,” she writes in Live Well and Boost Your Immune System, a blog post at the Live Healthy Live Well website. “Eat well by choosing nutrient-rich foods,” she adds.
The site, which can be found at livehealthyosu.com, is a free information resource that offers science-based consumer information and insights. It’s written by OSU Extension educators and specialists in family and consumer sciences who promote health and wellness.
In the blog post, Stefura lists multiple foods that can help boost your immune system, including foods rich in:
Vitamin D, which plays a wide variety of roles in boosting the immune system, including helping the body absorb calcium, which builds strong bones and prevents osteoporosis. Your muscles, nerves, the immune system, and many other bodily functions all require vitamin D to do their jobs properly. Good food sources of vitamin D include fortified milk and fortified orange juice; fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel; eggs and egg yolks; mushrooms; beef liver; cheese; and fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin C, which is essential for the growth and repair of tissue throughout the body. Good food sources of vitamin C include kiwi, broccoli, tomatoes, berries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, mango, nectarine, orange, snow peas, sweet potato, and strawberries. Red, green, and yellow peppers are also great sources of vitamin C.
Beta carotene, which studies suggest may enhance immune cell function and has been shown to strengthen the body’s infection-fighting methods. Good sources of beta carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, mango, tomatoes, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, and watermelon.
Zinc, which helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses and is key to optimal immune function. Foods containing zinc include red meat, seafood, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, oysters, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, and some fortified cereals.
Stefura also says that minimizing your intake of sugar, processed foods, and alcohol, as well as managing stress and getting enough sleep is key to boosting your immune system.
“Lack of sleep contributes to a variety of health concerns, including a weakened immune system,” she writes. “Seven to nine hours is recommended each day for adults, and children need eight to fourteen hours depending on their age.” [author: Turner, T. (2020). Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.]
Pat Brinkman is the Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for Ohio State University Extension Fayette County.