Using your diet to boost immune system, even during a pandemic

Eating Well: A column by Paul Webster
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 9/15/20

While we all wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, is there something we can do to strengthen our immune system? Many people are talking about how much weight they are gaining during this pandemic but not …

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Using your diet to boost immune system, even during a pandemic

Posted

While we all wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, is there something we can do to strengthen our immune system?

Many people are talking about how much weight they are gaining during this pandemic but not many people are talking about foods that can help strengthen our immune system and fight illness whether it is a common cold, the flu or the COVID-19 virus.

A strong immune system has the ability to balance inflammation in the body, heal injury and fight disease. The Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, while Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation.

According to the Hershey Medical Institute at Penn State University, Americans consume on average between 14 to 25 times more Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3 fatty acids.

For optimal health, the ratio should be less than four times more Omega-6.

Antioxidants important for a strong immune system

What is an antioxidant? When iron gets wet and is exposed to oxygen it begins to rust, a term known as oxidation. A similar process happens in the cells of your body but the oxidation comes from molecules known as free radicals. Eating foods high in antioxidants can help control free radicals, thus reducing the amount of oxidation in your cells.

The most common antioxidants are beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, E and D, lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc. You can purchase antioxidant supplements in the vitamin isle of your grocery store, but according to the National Institutes of Health, antioxidants in supplement form may not prevent oxidation of your cells. The reason for this is that whole foods containing antioxidants also contain other compounds that will help your body fully utilize the benefits of the antioxidants.

What to eat

Nuts and seeds like flaxseed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts will help improve your Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio while adding protein and healthy fats to your diet. Whole grains like oatmeal, barley, quinoa and wheat will also add protein, antioxidants, vitamins and fiber to your diet.

Most Americans get too much protein and not enough fiber, but if you are worried about protein, adding beans to your diet will increase your intake of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help strengthen your immune system. The fiber from the beans and grains will help improve your gut health and strengthen your immune system.

Colorful vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, yellow corn, purple cabbage, dark greens like Romaine lettuce and kale are all high in antioxidants. Fruits that have a deep color like mangos, berries, oranges, plums and squashes all contain a wide variety of antioxidants.

Vitamin D is created in your skin from exposure to the sun and is important for immunity and health. Mushrooms are the only food known to contain a source of vitamin D. If you are not out in the sun with your skin exposed for at least 30 to 60 minutes each day, you may want to discuss vitamin D supplements with your doctor.

Reducing animal products

Animal products, including all dairy products, eggs, beef, chicken and pork are high in Omega-6 fatty acids and low in Omega-3 fatty acids. For that reason, it is best to eliminate or drastically reduce all animal products in your diet. The good news is your overall health will improve if you eat a diet rich in whole plant foods while eliminating or drastically reducing animal foods. You will reduce your risk for chronic diseases like type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and many forms of cancer.

Paul Webster is certified in Whole Food Nutrition, Weight Management, Sports Nutrition and Training. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. Questions and Comments can be sent to Info@ServingHealthy.com

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