With cold and flu season here and cases of COVID-19 surging, immune health has never been more top of mind. There is a massive amount of research and development underway on the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. While there currently are no proven over-the-counter products or supplements that can claim to help with COVID-19, we do know that lifestyle factors including nutrition play an important role in immune system health.
To be clear, no one food or supplement can help keep you from becoming infected with coronavirus. Public health practices including mask-wearing, handwashing and physically distancing are effective and remain our primary defenses against this highly contagious virus. At the same time, many people want to go further to make sure they are as healthy as possible during these uncertain times.
Here are some steps you can take to support your natural defenses this season:
Eat a Variety of Healthy Foods
Nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, seafood, low-fat dairy and dairy alternatives, nuts, whole grains, and seeds contain key vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc. Optimal nutrition, which includes getting in enough calories and protein, affects how our immune systems work to keep us healthy.
Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco
Chronic alcohol use has been shown to weaken the immune system and smoking increases vulnerability to respiratory illnesses including COVID-19. Those with serious heart and lung problems are at heightened risk for serious complications from COVID-19. Now is the time to assess your relationship with alcohol and tobacco and consider changes to improve your health.
Incorporate Self-Care for Stress Management
Fear, anxiety and feelings of overwhelm are common during the pandemic. Social isolation, financial concerns and stress can take a serious toll on mental health. While some people can benefit from exercise, meditation and talking to friends and family for needed support, others may consider reaching out to a mental health counselor to seek personalized care. Many mental health practitioners along with other doctors and specialists are offering telemedicine services for those looking to access virtual appointments and services from home.
Access Community Nutrition Resources
The coronavirus pandemic has led to worsening food insecurity, or disruptions in eating patterns due to lack of money and resources. A University of Southern California report published earlier this year found that 1 in 4 families in Los Angeles experienced food insecurity at least once. While there is no simple solution for this growing problem, national, state and local food programs can help. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), neighborhood food pantries and Meals on Wheels are just a few of the resources available to those needing assistance accessing food.
There are steps we can take to fortify our immune systems while continuing to reduce the spread of the virus. Eating well, managing stress and reducing unhealthy habits can help optimize your immune health. However, it can’t be stressed enough that avoiding potential transmission of the virus by following public health recommendations and up-to-date local guidelines remain our top strategy to keep everyone safe and healthy.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.