Erin Kukura, MS, RD
UCSD Recreation Dietitian
The focus on how to build and maintain a strong immune system has been at the forefront this year with COVID-19. Today we will explore how nutrition and our immune system are related and what you can do to optimize your immune system:
- Our immune system is impacted by a variety of things including what we eat, sleep, stress on our bodies (both emotional and physical) and gut health just to name a few!
- What we eat can play a PART in keeping our immune system strong but is by no means solely responsible. You could be eating great but if you are stressed and not sleeping well your immune system is going to suffer.
- Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and more whole types of foods contains many beneficial nutrients that are necessary for immune health.
- Here are some of the specific nutrients linked to immune function:
- Vitamin D- links between low levels and decreased immune function
- Vitamin C – an important antioxidant and used in the immune response. Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables including oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli.
- Zinc – another nutrient necessary for immune function. Sources include animal proteins, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, beans and whole grains such as oatmeal
- It is ideal to obtain these nutrients mostly from food but supplementation may be necessary if you can’t obtain from diet alone, deficiency or absorption issues.
- Most research supports supplements are only beneficial if you have a deficiency. You can ask to get your levels checked by your MD if you are concerned about a deficiency.
- More is not necessarily better. Excess nutrient levels can also lead to decreased immune function.
- To date, there is no strong evidence to support Vitamin C supplementation in the prevention of the common cold. It also remains inconsistent regarding supplementation on the duration and severity of symptoms during a cold.
- Learn more about supplements
- Focus on incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your eating pattern. This is where we get the benefits of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants that help to support a strong immune system.
- Important to take care of our bodies in all aspects, both to strengthen our immunity and keep us healthy:
- Getting adequate rest and sleep
- Moving our bodies in a variety of activities
- Staying hydrated
- Finding ways to de-stress (breathwork, yoga, meditation, journaling, drawing…)
- Connection with others
- Eating fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich foods