What to Eat to Support Your Immune System + What to Skip
By Darlene Kvist, MS, CNS, LN
March 19, 2020
These days when you go grocery shopping, you never know what you will find on the shelves. We all have shopping stories of our own, and it’s even more challenging when you are trying to eat healthfully to boost your immune system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But how exactly do we boost our immune system with food? As you know, we always say food first when it comes to health and well-being. Now more than ever, we recommend eating real food in balance to support your immune function. This means a diet of real meat, real vegetables and real natural fats to supply the nutrients to maximize your health – and cutting out sugar and processed carbs (that break down into sugar in your body). Researchers have found that sugar can reduce the ability of our white cells to kill germs by 40%.
Read on as we break down what that means and the benefits real food can offer your immune system. (If you find you are overloaded with information, know that you can make a phone or video nutrition counseling appointment with us to learn more of the ins and outs of immune support, tackling anxiety or whatever your health goals are.)
Animal Protein to Support Your Immune System
We recommend 2 to 4 ounces at least four times a day, whether it’s beef, pork, chicken, turkey or lamb.
Meat enhances the immune system in the following ways:
- Vitamin B6, helps with formation of healthy white and red blood cells
- Vitamin B12, strengthens the immune system
- Iron, critical for good immune function
- Zinc, key for good immune function
These are stressful times to say the least and how we manage our stress and anxiety is critical at this time. Stress lowers our immune system and meat helps us handle stress, here’s how. First, we needthe neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin to handle stress. This can get a little science-y but meat supports that need by breaking down into two key amino acids, L-Tyrosine and L-Tryptophan. L-Tyrosine is the building block for dopamine, which helps us with our focus and energy. L-Tryptophan is the building block for serotonin, which we need in abundance to keep us calm and manage anxiety.
Fats and Oils to Support Your Immune System
Fats help us regulate blood sugar by releasing glucose into the bloodstream more evenly so we avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster that stresses our body and sets people up for cravings. High blood sugars have been shown to compromise our immune systems.
Certain fats are more protective at this time. Coconut milk and coconut oil can also help fight bacteria, fungus and viruses. With that in mind try incorporating coconut in the following ways.
- Coconut milk for shakes, sauces and soups
- Coconut oil for sautéing vegetables and meats for meals, such as chicken curry or beef stir fry.
Other fats and oils you can use to support your immune system would be butter, Ghee, olive oil, avocado oil, cream cheese or heavy cream. Stay away from soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil and canola oil, because these are damaged factory fats that can create more inflammation in your body and lower you immune response
Vegetables to Support Your Immune System
Lastly, but just as important, eat your vegetables during this highly stressful time. Many studies have shown that fruits and vegetables provide nutrients like beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, which are all high in antioxidants. Antioxidants (now and always) are important because they serve as a natural defense system for our cells. Their primary role is to protect the cell wall and DNA from damage. Some antioxidants also repair damaged DNA.
When it comes to keeping ourselves healthy, an important thing to understand is that if you have a lot of inflammation, or if you are diabetic or have an underlying health condition such as heart disease or even cancer, you have to eat more carefully to support your immune system. The real-food eating plan described above is anti-inflammatory, which is important since an inflamed body usually has a lower immune response.
Remember, a diet of real meat, real vegetables and real natural fats supplies the nutrients to maximize your health – and cutting out sugar and processed carbs will let your immune system do its best work. Here are recipes that combine protein, fats and carbs into delicious meals.