Challenging in the best of times, maintaining a healthy diet can seem nearly impossible when crisis hits. Yet, that is precisely when it matters the most. Balanced nutrition is the foundation of a balanced immune system.
A complex network of organs, tissues and cells, your immune system is your last and most important line of defense against infections caused by everything from a minor injury to the common cold to COVID-19.
“Adequate nutrition is vital to maintaining a healthy immune system,” said Dr. Theresa DeLorenzo, RD, Director of the Nutrition and Human Performance program at Logan University. “When we don’t eat enough calories and protein, our body has to work harder, therefore all of our systems suffer, including our immune system.”
While many food processors and marketers tout the “immune boosting” qualities of their products, “Boosting your immune system is marketing mumbo-jumbo,” claims New York Times reporter Matt Richtel. Author of An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System, Richtel explains that the key to a strong immune system is balance.
“It’s constantly calibrating. The immune system is a combination of a bouncer and a ballet dancer. Trying to do damage when necessary, but as little damage as necessary so as not to harm our tissues,” he added.
To support this balance, Dr. DeLorenzo notes, “Fat intake is extremely important, as inadequate intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids weakens our immune system further. Certain vitamins and minerals are responsible for supporting our immune system, such as antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables as well as copper and zinc which can be obtained from beans, nuts and shellfish.”
Dropping the G-BOMBS
A fun, simple way to remember which immune-balancing foods to add to your shopping list is G-BOMBS:
Greens—In salads, soups or on the side, spinach, kale, mustard and collard greens, broccoli, bok choy and Brussels Sprouts deliver a powerful package of folate, calcium and antioxidants.
Beans—With over 400 varieties to choose from, beans, peas and lentils make a filling and affordable addition to any meal.
Onions—Onions and their culinary cousins garlic, shallots, scallions, leeks and chives add flavor and bacteria-fighting properties to any dish.
Mushrooms—Rich in proteins, minerals and other nutrients, cooked mushrooms complement salads, soups, noodle dishes and pizza. They are also a popular base for meatless burgers.
Berries—Sweet, delicious strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are high in phytochemicals and vitamins that support the immune system.
Seeds—Seeds and nuts such as chia, flax, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin and sesame seeds are rich in disease-fighting nutrients including omega-3 fats, vitamin E, iron, zinc and calcium.
What You Can Do
Rich in calories and poor in nutrition, the modern American industrialized diet is loaded with sugar, refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Nearly 90% of Americans don’t get the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. To support your immune system in times of stress, “Continue a regular routine of three meals and two snacks throughout the day, so you don’t succumb to grazing,” recommends Dr. DeLorenzo. “Plan meals and snacks that are rich in fruits and vegetables to optimize your nutrient density, lower your caloric density and keep you full longer.”
Nutrition is only one component in warding off infection. Journalist Matt Richtel also stresses the importance of quality sleep, stress reduction and regular exercise in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Taking Nutrition Further
As people search for ways to improve their own health as well as their communities’, interest in nutrition and natural health care is growing rapidly. Named one of the country’s best online nutrition programs in the country, the Master of Science in Nutrition & Human Performance at Logan University is preparing students to meet the growing demand for nutritionists and dieticians.
If you’re interested in exploring a career in nutrition or enhancing the scope of your current health or fitness practice, get to know Logan University though one of our virtual experiences.
Optimize your nutrition with our free, downloadable poster and shopping guide.