Nutrition and the Immune System

by Jordan Ciambrone | July 14, 2020, 10:23 AM

Bethany and I are excited to welcome back Stephanie Miezin, Registered Dietitian with Team USA.  In her writing, Stephanie expertly walks us through the interaction between daily nutrition and immune system function.  Get ready to take a few notes because she also provides practical tips!  Until next time, Jordan and Bethany

Nutrition and the Immune System  

Did you know what you eat can influence your risk of getting sick? Here are a few easy nutrition ideas to support your immune system:  

Eat enough calories overall: The immune system relies on fuel from foods you eat to keep it running at its best. Over time a diet too low in calories can lead to your immune system running on empty and putting you at greater risk for catching a cold or other illness. Avoid a weakened immune system by eating 3 meals a day, with 2-3 snacks. Pay attention to energy levels to help you identify when you may not be getting enough fuel. 

Prioritize protein and carbohydrates: Low amounts of protein and carbohydrates in the diet have been linked to decreased immune function. Include protein and carbohydrates in all meals and snacks to work towards getting enough of each. Great protein choices include fish, lean beef and pork, chicken, tofu, Greek yogurt, and eggs. Awesome carbohydrate sources include whole grain breads and pasta, sweet and regular potatoes, whole grain cereals, rice, quinoa, beans, and fruits.

Focus on fruits and veggies: We all know we have to eat them. Their immune system-supporting nutrients are one of the big reasons why. Specifically, Vitamin C and beta-carotene are two important micronutrients found in many, if not most, fruits and veggies that are critical in helping the immune system run at its best.

Get some zinc: This mineral is not one we think about often, but it does have a large impact on the immune system. Low zinc is associated with decreased immune function. Get enough zinc in your diet by regularly incorporating foods like beans, beef, shellfish, yogurt, chicken, pork, nuts, and zinc fortified cereals.

Soak up Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays a key role in several aspects of good health, with immune function being one. People with low Vitamin D status have been shown to have a higher susceptibility to infections. Aim for a moderate amount of sun exposure each day to promote Vitamin D synthesis in your body, or get some through your diet with salmon, eggs, mushrooms (especially wild types like shiitakes), fortified milk and cereals.

Fuel great gut health: Did you know you have a whole ecosystem of bacteria in your gut? These beneficial bacteria, or microbiota, impact how well your immune system does its job of fighting off the bad bacteria and other invaders. Keep it healthy and fighting well with probiotic foods like yogurt, kombucha, and pickles, and prebiotic foods like onions, asparagus, garlic, mango, and beans.

In closing, here is a day’s worth of meals and snacks incorporating the ideas above to fuel a healthy immune system:

  • Breakfast: Eggs (omelet or scrambled) with mushrooms and asparagus, whole grain toast, mixed berries with Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Morning Snack: Banana with handful of mixed nuts
  • Lunch: Seared salmon and a salad made with veggies of least 3 different colors, chickpeas, and an olive oil based vinaigrette
  • Afternoon Snack: Parfait made with Greek yogurt, mango, and nuts or a crunchy fortified cereal
  • Dinner: Stir fry made with chicken, beef, tofu, shrimp, or pork, red or orange bell peppers, onion, broccoli, garlic, ginger, and served over whole grain noodles or brown rice

Nourish well! 

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