With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, you may have heard or read things to “eat this” or “take that” to support your immune system. The reality of the situation is this: there is nothing you can eat or take that will magically improve your immune function overnight.
Building a healthy immune system takes time, consistency, and good habits (which we’ll talk about below). But, NOTHING you do from a dietary/lifestyle perspective should outweigh the guidelines of the CDC. Wash your hands, avoid touching your face, use hand sanitizer, and practice social distancing. Also, keep in mind that even if you have an incredibly strong immune system, you are not protected from the virus.
That being said, there are habits to keep in mind that are scientifically proven to support the foundation to a healthy immune system. They are:
Eat enough fiber
Did you know that a significant proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract? That’s why ensuring proper gut health is important. Fiber acts as a prebiotic which helps to balance out the gut and therefore improve overall immune function. Ladies should be aiming for 25g+ of fiber, while guys should be closer to 35g+. Great dietary sources of fiber include:
- Brussels sprouts
Exercise is scientifically proven to strengthen the immune system. It’s also great for your mental and emotional well-being. Whether you choose to do resistance training or endurance training is fine, but it’s important to avoid overtraining, which can negatively affect immune function. If you’re constantly sore, having trouble sleeping, losing motivation to workout, etc. then you may be overtraining. Otherwise, try to get in some sort of movement everyday, even if it’s a long walk. Bonus: getting a little vitamin D from being outside in the sun is also great for the immune system.
Duh. Not only does quantity of sleep matter, but so does your quality. In order to ensure good quality sleep, it’s important to stay on a schedule — going to bed and waking up around the same time every day. This is especially important now when many of us are working from home and out of our normal routine. You should be aiming for 7+ hours of good quality sleep per night.
No surprise here but the quality of your diet is important to the function of your immune system. Generally speaking, 80-90% of your diet should be comprised of high-quality and whole foods. In addition, being at a healthy weight is important for immune function so if you are focusing on fat loss to get to a healthy weight, then that’s okay! But, now is not the time for any weird crash diets, juice cleanses, detoxes, or fasts — all of which can negatively impact immune function. As for vitamins and minerals, you can always supplement with a high-quality multivitamin to fill in gaps in your diet, but there’s no need to be pounding down ungodly amounts of vitamin C.
Eat enough protein
Studies have shown that an inadequate amount of dietary protein and amino acids can negatively impact immune function. Does that mean you should be pounding down three protein shakes a day? No. But without getting too technical, evidence shows that dietary supplementation of specific amino acids to humans with malnutrition and infectious disease enhances the immune status, thereby reducing morbidity and mortality. Again, let me be clear by emphasizing that getting enough protein will NOT protect you from deadly disease, but it has been shown to help support healthy immune function. A good rule of thumb is to aim for .8g – 1.2g per pound of bodyweight (or goal body weight for someone who is overweight).
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