- Maddy Belaustegui
NUTRITION AND YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
To be clear, food is not and should not be a replacement to modern medicine. However, proper nutrition does play a role in supporting a healthy immune system. Food, along with adequate sleep and stress management, can help keep your immune system strong so that it is prepared to fight off viruses and bacteria. So while it cannot singlehandedly cure or prevent infections, it can help optimize your body's response.
Various nutrients play a role in the growth and function of immune cells, including vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, iron and others. Additionally, adequate protein and calorie intake is important, as an undernourished body is more susceptible to stress and infection. Micronutrients with the strongest evidence for immune support are vitamins C and D and zinc. These nutrients are found in a variety of plant and animal foods.
Zinc: found in many protein foods such as seafood, red meat, and poultry as well as beans, nuts, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products
Vitamin C: found in many fruits and vegetables including citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato juice, potatoes, red and green peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe
Vitamin D: found in few foods naturally. The best sources are fatty fish, such as trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Beef liver, egg yolks, mushrooms and cheese have small amounts of vitamin D. Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in American diets, including fortified cow's milk, fortified soy, almond, and oat milks, and fortified breakfast cereals.
As you can see, it is easy to get these nutrients through a varied diet. Your first goal should NOT be to take these vitamins as supplements. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA (see the 10/26/21 blog post) and should be used under the direction of your doctor and/or a Registered Dietitian to ensure you take the proper dose. Instead focus on eating balanced meals, incorporating these above foods, practice good sleep hygiene, get fresh air and sunlight even during the winter months, and manage stress through exercise and other mindfulness techniques. These can all help keep you as healthy as possible.
A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System–Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection | PMID 31963293
Harvard School of Public Health | Nutrition and Immunity