Wendy Richman, M.A., R.D., is a lecturer in nutrition at Penn State Abington. She shares advice for good health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and throughout life.
Despite what you read on the internet or what you may hear from your friends or family, there are no magical foods or pills that are guaranteed to boost your immune system and protect you against COVID-19. As the nutritionist/dietician at Penn State Abington, I want to share the science behind which foods to eat and which to avoid to strengthen your immune system.
The major nutrients that have the greatest impact on strengthening immunity by decreasing inflammation are Vitamins A, C and D, as well as zinc and proteins.
- Vitamin A and its precursor, carotene, boost the immune system by strengthening the digestive system (gut lining) and by helping antibodies react to toxins. Food sources include sweet potatoes yams, red/green/yellow peppers, tomatoes, carrots, collard greens, mangoes, apricots, peaches, spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, broccoli, winter squash, and cantaloupe.
- Vitamin C boosts the immune system by increasing blood levels of antibodies. Food sources include oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, pineapple, lemon, lime, berries, cherries, brussel sprouts, red and green peppers, cabbage, spinach, kale, tomatoes, potatoes, cantaloupe, and cauliflower.
- Vitamin D boosts the immune system by producing a protein that has the ability to kill viruses and bacteria. Food sources include egg yolks, mushrooms, salmon, sardines, fortified milk, cheese, and beef liver. Fifteen minutes per day of sunshine also provides Vitamin D.
- Zinc boosts the immune system by preventing excess inflammation, which keeps the immune system in balance. Beans, nuts, cereals, meat, and seafood are good sources of zinc.
- Protein boosts the immune system by synthesizing antibodies that fight infection. Milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, nuts, beans, meat, fish, and seafood are good sources of protein.
Some food we consume may weaken the immune system by decreasing good bacteria and increasing bad bacteria in the gut. Ultimately, this increases inflammation, which leads to disease. Foods to be limited or ideally avoided include refined carbohydrates, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats.
As a nutritionist, I strongly encourage you to look at this time of isolating as an opportunity to get fit and boost your immune system. Go outside for a walk, run, or bike ride while maintaining physical distance, stay hydrated, meditate, stay socially connected, and eat well.
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With about 3,700 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 21 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more.