The time of the coronavirus presents many unknowns. One action you can take to protect yourself is to eat as healthily as possible.
If you do catch COVID-19 or the flu, your immune system will be responsible for fighting it. Nutrition is one way to support optimal immune function (1).
The ideal nutrition plan to support immune function should accomplish three goals:
1. Balance blood glucose
Hyperglycemia is known to impair white blood immune cells, making individuals with high blood sugar more susceptible to infections. We see this playing out with the coronavirus as diabetics are more likely to have dangerous complications from the virus.
2. Nurture gut health and function
Supporting gastrointestinal health is key because approximately 70 percent of our immune cells reside in the gut. The gut is also the site of much of your lymphatic system, which plays a central role in defending your body against viruses, bacteria, and foreign pathogens (2).
3. Provide plenty of nutrients to counter inflammation
Every healthy diet should focus on an array of foods that provide the abundant nutrients your body needs to counter inflammation and fight off disease (3).
The good news is that each of these goals can be achieved with simple principles to guide your immune-boosting nutrition plan:
Plan meals around protein, healthy fat, and vegetables.
This combination is your go-to for regulating blood sugar and promoting GI function. High-quality protein provides the building blocks needed for healing and it is used to build antibodies and immune cells. Aim for a variety of protein foods including seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, dairy, nuts, and seeds.
Get plenty of healthy fats.
Some forms of fat cause inflammation and impair immune function, including trans hydrogenated fats and omega-6 fats that are abundant in seed oils. In contrast, the omega-3 fats found in fish oil and the monounsaturated fats in nuts support immune health.
Eat the rainbow.
Every healthy diet should focus on colorful fruits and vegetables that provide the abundant phytonutrients your body needs to fight off disease. Plant-based foods also provide prebiotic fiber that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Focus on eating the rainbow, incorporating as many leafy greens and red, yellow, orange, and purple foods as possible.
Avoid the usual suspects.
Sugar, processed, and refined foods should be avoided because they spike blood sugar and stimulate parts of the brain that encourage overeating. They also tend to be low in nutritional value and won’t provide the building blocks needed for robust immune function.
Eat within your calorie needs.
Maintaining a healthy body composition will benefit the immune system. Obesity is an inflammatory condition that has been linked to increased risk of flu and other infections such as pneumonia (3).
It can also be useful to incorporate supplements to pad nutrient deficiencies while providing nutrients in their most bioavailable form. For example, zinc is a top immune support supplement but fewer than 40 percent of the population get the recommended amount (NHANES) (5). Even those with an adequate intake are often deficient due to plant food compounds that impair absorption of zinc and other minerals.