Skip to content

Breaking News

Eating vegetables and protein can help boost your immune system.
(File Photo)
Eating vegetables and protein can help boost your immune system. (File Photo)

Keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic is priority No. 1. It might be tempting to load up on extra supplements to boost our immune system in hopes of preventing or curing infection, but the experts do not support this, and taking excess supplements can come with risks. Instead, the safest way to support a healthy immune system is to get your nutrients from food.

Some of the most notable nutrients known to play a role in immunity are vitamins A, C and E, the mineral zinc and protein. Other nutrients such as vitamins D, B6 and folate, and the minerals copper, iron and selenium may also influence immunity. Even our gut bacteria help keep our immune system strong. Getting enough of these nutrients might seem challenging with reduced trips to the grocery store and difficulty getting fresh foods. However, you might be relieved to know — based on the number of empty store shelves — your pantries and freezers may already be stocked with great sources of these important nutrients.

Vegetables and fruits

Vegetables with deep orange and red hues are good sources of vitamin A, as are dark, leafy greens, which also contain folate. Think canned pumpkin and tomatoes, frozen squash and spinach, which comes either frozen or canned.

Citrus fruits such as oranges are the most familiar sources of vitamin C, but other foods such as bell peppers,  broccoli, berries, pineapple and mangos all contain this vitamin. These items can be found either frozen or canned (or jarred). Two common examples are red bell peppers and pineapple.

Whole grains

Whole grains have three components — the bran, germ and endosperm. These parts of the grain, particularly the bran and germ, contain key nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, protein and fiber.

Fiber is the food of choice for the good bacteria that live in our intestines (otherwise known as prebiotics). Prebiotics are essential to maintaining good gut health, which in turn helps to support a healthy immune system.

The most common sources of whole grains include wheat, barley, rye, bulgur and several gluten-free sources including brown rice, corn, quinoa, millet and rolled oats. If you are running low on items like brown rice and pastas, now might be a good time to experiment with some of the lesser-known grains, like millet or farro. These grains cook especially well in an electric pressure cooker, like the Instant Pot, and there is an abundance of recipes available online.

Animal and plant-based protein sources

Canned meats, nuts, seeds and legumes are all great sources of protein, but these foods also provide other nutrients associated with immunity such as zinc. Fatty fish like canned tuna and salmon as well as shelf-stable dairy and fortified soy milks contain vitamin D (although it may be difficult to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D from food sources alone, so consult with your health care practitioner to determine if supplementation may be right for you). Vitamin E can be found in seeds and nuts; and legumes contain a variety of these nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and fiber.

No magic bullet

It’s clear that supporting a healthy immune system requires more than just a single nutrient or food group. It is a complex system of interconnected functions. Now more than ever it’s important to maintain a healthy diet, and we can get key nutrients from a variety of sources, even if they may not be our first choices under normal circumstances. The best advice is the well-worn advice to eat a balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and do your best to get adequate sleep.

Join the Conversation

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.