Adequate nutrition is incredibly important during uncertain times like this to ensure our immune systems are in tip top shape to help fight off infection. When the immune system fights off unknown pathogens, the human body actually requires more calories and nutrients to replace what is lost. Foods that help boost the immune system have vital macro and micronutrients that assist in ensuring an active immune system. The information in this article is being presented in hopes of helping Meigs County residents make healthy choices from home.
To begin, adequate nutrition is defined as “able to fulfill a need or requirement without being abundant”. This means that a diet focused on variety, eating fruits and vegetables, and choosing lean protein contributes to an active immune system during times of infection. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends the following daily servings:
Fruits: 2 cups per day
Vegetables: 2.5-3 cups per day
Grains: 3-4 ounces of whole grains per day
Protein: 5.5-6.5 ounces per day
Dairy: 3 cups per day
Oils: allowance of 6-7 teaspoons per day
Some vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to the immune system include vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc.
Vitamin A keeps the skin and vital tissues in the mouth, stomach, and respiratory system healthy. Food sources of vitamin A are sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, carrots, eggs, and milk.
Vitamin C stimulates antibodies that fight off infection. Foods that contain vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, and brussels sprouts among others.
Zinc is vital to the immune system as it plays a huge role in cell growth and wound healing. This important mineral can be found in foods like oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, fortified cereals, and dairy products.
Aside from the micronutrients listed above, simply consuming adequate protein also plays a huge role in the body’s immune system. Protein aids in healing and recovery in the human body and can replenish the energy that is expended when the immune system is “in action”. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming a variety of protein sources such as seafood, lean meat, poultry, beans, eggs, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
While adequate nutrition can help the immune system function properly, it’s important to get all of your information from credible sources. Be sure to speak with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian before taking any supplements.
Childs, C. E., Calder, P. C., & Miles, E. A. (2019). Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients, 11(8), 1933. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081933
Gilbert C. (2013). What is vitamin A and why do we need it?. Community eye health, 26(84), 65.
Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN, S. (2019). Support your health with nutrition. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/support-your-health-with-nutrition
NIH. (2020). Office of Dietary Supplements—Zinc. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
USDA. (2020). Myplate | choosemyplate. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/
Erin Swatzel is an Ohio Dept. of Health assigned volunteer for Meigs County via the COVID-19 Public Health Assist Team initiative.