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9 Ways You Can Boost Your Immune System During COVID-19

April 08, 2020

By Sharon Knight
Transplant Dietitian
Hartford Hospital Transplant Program

Here are some great eating tips to help you maintain your health and to get you through this stressful time:

Eat whole foods: A Nutrient-Dense Diet

Our immune system relies on nutrient-dense whole foods to function well. Death from infections is often not due to the infection itself but the body’s inability to fight it because of nutrient deficiencies. Since more than 90% of Americans are deficient in one or more nutrients, we all need to focus on improving the quality of our diet.

Cut Out Sugar and Refined Starches

Studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingesting. Limiting starch and sugar will help your immune system function better and your overall health improves. Because diabetics are more likely to die from COVID-19 and one in two Americans is pre-diabetic or diabetic, this is a great opportunity to cut sugar and starch which suppress the immune system.

Ensure Adequate Protein Intake

While most Americans eat adequate amounts of protein, the elderly and vegan populations are among those who do not. Protein is critical for immune function. Protein malnutrition is a big risk factor for death from infections.

Your protein needs are based on your body weight. Take half your body weight and use that number, in grams, for your targeted daily protein intake. As an example, someone who weighs 150 pounds would need 75 grams, or about 2.6 ounces per day.

Here are two protein sources:

  • Animal proteins (such as lean chicken or red meat, fish and eggs).
  • Plant-based proteins (legumes, nuts/seeds), which are adequate if consumed in enough quantity. Try tofu and tempeh for the highest protein concentrations.

Add These Ingredients to Your Meals

Here’s your go-to list: garlic, onions, ginger and lots of spices (oregano, turmeric, rosemary). Add these to your soups and vegetable dishes, as well as bean dips and sauces. Garlic and onions offer wide-spectrum antimicrobial properties.

Make Room for Colorful Fruits, Vegetables

Eat multiple servings of colorful fruits and vegetables high in vitamins C, A, and phytonutrients that support the immune system. Choose more leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower), peppers, sweet potatoes and squashes. Aim for 2 servings of fruits and 8 more servings of vegetables! A serving is half a cup.

Eat Fermented Probiotic Foods

These foods support your microbiome and immunity. Eat sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, unsweetened yogurt and kefir. They also keep well. Also include prebiotic foods such as asparagus, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, plantains, dandelion greens, leeks, onions, garlic, bananas, apples, flax seeds and seaweed.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Consuming adequate fluids supports all your bodies’ functions, including the immune system. Make soups and broths (from scratch with fresh vegetables is always best) and have them throughout the week. Drink herbal teas like ginger and turmeric tea. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times. Avoid concentrated fruit juices and sweetened beverages, as the sugar content is harmful for the immune system.

Get Sufficient Sleep

We all know sleep restores and heals the body. Without adequate sleep, optimal immune function is next to impossible! Get in a better rhythm and head to bed earlier. Aim for seven to eight hours a night. Incorporating various relaxation and breathing techniques throughout the day to help with stress and allow the mind to rest is also very helpful!

Get Regular Exercise

Mild to moderate exercise (for approximately 30-45 minutes) helps boost the immune system. Avoid overexertion such as training for endurance events when you are feeling run down. This will lower your immune defenses. If you are able to exercise outside in less-populated areas, great. If not, find workouts and yoga classes online.

Sharon Knight is a transplant dietitian with the Hartford Hospital Transplant Program.

Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.

Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor.

Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily.

Questions? Call our 24-hour hotline (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600). 

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