With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still affecting our everyday lives, many individuals have been wondering, now more than ever: what can be done to boost the immune system and fend off serious illness?
The immune system is a complex network that defends the body against parasites, disease-causing germs and bacteria (pathogens), and viruses. Although we cannot completely prevent certain illnesses and viruses, we can take care of our bodies and help them function more effectively, thus better equipping them to fight against infection. One major way we can do this is by implementing and sustaining healthy eating habits.
Here are a few simple tips for maintaining a healthy diet, in turn giving your immune system a boost:
Eat the rainbow. As a rule of thumb, the more colorful variety of fruits and vegetables you consume, the better. The deep, rich colors in produce indicate beneficial nutrients and antioxidants (such as Vitamin C), all of which are crucial in improving immune responses. Aim for about half of your plate to be filled with fruits or vegetables at each meal.
Add in some healthy fats and lean proteins. Though some may be hesitant to consume fatty foods, healthy fats such as olive oil, salmon, nuts, and avocado are rich in beneficial components such as omega-3s. These fatty acids can assist in maintaining healthy brain function, managing moods, fighting fatigue, and controlling weight.
Additionally, protein is a necessary component to a healthy diet as well. Proteins are the building blocks of all cells, including immune cells. Focus on sources of lean protein, which include poultry, plain Greek yogurt, and legumes (including beans, peas, and lentils). Many types of protein also contain high levels of zinc, which is known for its immune-boosting properties.
Stay hydrated. One simple tip that is often overlooked in terms of keeping your body functioning properly, is drinking enough water. Nearly all of your body’s major systems require water to function and survive — from aiding in digestion to improving cognitive function. Further, water helps dissolve minerals and nutrients, allowing for proper absorption by your body.
Ideally, you should be drinking half an ounce to an ounce for every pound you weigh. To meet your goal, carry a refillable water bottle with you and set reminders throughout the day to make sure you’re drinking enough.
Limit processed foods and added sugars. Packaged foods such as chips, cookies, refined grains, and sugary cereals are convenient but often contain high amounts of trans fats, sodium, and sugar without providing necessary nutrients. These processed foods have been shown to significantly contribute to obesity, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes, all of which can compromise your immune system. While it may be unrealistic to completely eliminate these items from your diet, lowering your intake and focusing on more nutrient-dense foods may decrease inflammation and promote healthy bodily function.
In addition to maintaining a balanced and healthy diet, adults should aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night and exercise regularly. Making these lifestyle and dietary changes, while easier said than done, can get you on the path to a stronger immune system and improved health overall. Remember that change does not have to happen all at once. You can always start small, implementing modifications and healthier choices gradually.