Never has the term what a wild time to be alive felt more true. And never has frantically Googling “immune system booster foods” felt more rational. In the face of coronavirus COVID-19, doing everything you possibly can to stay healthy is the right move.
One thing nutritionists and doctors want you to know: You can control how you feel right now by checking in on your mental health and eating immune system booster foods that nourish your body and potentially help your fight infections too.
It’s important to note, there is absolutely no “magic bullet” vitamin, mineral, or food item that will protect you from coronavirus or any other virus that may come our way. (So no, don’t buy into the supplements, tinctures, or oils being touted on Facebook.) However, there are foods and steps we can take to help our minds and bodies prepare to fight off illness and feel stronger. “What we have to do is let people know that there is so much they can do to reduce their risk and improve their health overall,” Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, and author of The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, says. “Just feeling in control can be calming.”
Wahls and others are on a mission to help us all during these uncertain times by providing a blueprint of all the immune system booster foods we should be eating in abundance right now.
1. Non-starchy vegetables
Just about every doctor and nutritionist on the planet will tell you to eat your veggies to stay healthy. But when it comes to boosting your immune system, starchy vegetables like potatoes don’t count. Instead, go hard on the greens, which help your immune system function properly from your skin to your gut.
And, go for “cabbage, greens, onions, mushrooms, and garlic,” Wahls says. Now is not the time to worry about having garlic breath. Embrace the stink instead because a 2015 study found that garlic could help boost the human immune system assisting in the production of virus-fighting white blood cells.
2. Fermented foods
Wahl also encourages people to add plenty of fermented vegetables, like kimchi or sauerkraut, to their diet, which she says will help build a healthier gut microbiome that could protect you from infections. She also suggests everyone buys fermented foods without added sugars (sorry, no sweet pickles here), and, if you can, make your own.
3. Plenty of protein
“If you’re a meat-eater, that’s meat, fish, and poultry,” says Wahls. “If you’re not, then have gluten-free grains and legumes.” This is because protein is a building block for our body’s tissue and organs, making it imperative when trying to rebuild healthy cells.
4. Fatty fish
Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are some of the best protein sources for packing in extra micronutrients like vitamin D. “The key micronutrients consumers should be ensuring they try to get enough of are vitamin A, vitamin D, and Zinc,” says Dr. Mike Rogowski, senior nutrition scientist at Plexus Worldwide. “These nutrients are particularly important in the activation of our immune cells.” And, if you don’t eat fish or meat that’s okay as other vitamin D-rich foods include fortified milk and mushrooms.
Yes, you still can enjoy the finer things in life right now, which most certainly includes cheese. That’s because hard cheeses are particularly high in Zinc, which we mentioned above, is particularly powerful in fighting off viruses. Not a fan of cheese? Try navy beans.
Go ahead, eat all the berries you want. Berries are well-known for their antioxidant properties, which are disease-fighting compounds that will assist the immune system in fighting off infections and potentially help you get better quicker if you are ill. Even a cup a day will help.
7. Citrus fruits
You shouldn’t sleep the power of vitamin C—which is found in citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits and mandarins. According to a 2017 survey of studies, three controlled trials found that vitamin C prevented pneumonia, two controlled trials found a treatment benefit of vitamin C for pneumonia patients, and 148 animal studies showed vitamin C may alleviate or prevent infections caused by bacteria and viruses.
8. Sweet potatoes and squash
Foods that are high in vitamin A include sweet potatoes, spinach, winter squashes, and carrots. It’s an important nutrient as it is “known as an anti-inflammation vitamin because of its critical role in enhancing immune function,” a 2018 study suggested. Vitamin A, the authors wrote, “has both promoting and regulatory roles in both the innate immune system and adaptive immunity; therefore, it can enhance the organism’s immune function and provide an enhanced defense against multiple infectious diseases.”
9. Foods you enjoy
“We have to choose foods we enjoy,” says Willow Jarosh, a registered dietician. “Within enjoyment, aiming to balance meals with a combination of fruit and veggies, protein-rich foods, and carbohydrate-rich foods can help us meet nutrient needs to keep the immune system working well and also help us keep our energy and blood sugar levels stable.”