The COVID-19 outbreak has poignantly illustrated the importance of health. Navigating this new virus has people paying more attention to wellness. While washing hands, wearing masks, and social distancing are important preventative measures, improving immune function with whole food nutrition deserves additional attention.
Why is eating whole foods key to our health?
The CDC has reported that certain underlying health conditions significantly increase the risk of COVID-19, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. One common thread between these conditions is a diet rich in processed foods and lacking dietary fiber, micronutrients, and phytonutrients. Statistics show that hospitalizations have been 6 times higher and deaths 12 times higher among individuals with underlying health conditions, compared to those without.
Precision nutrition experts John Berardi, PhD, Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS and Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD, describe food as information for the body. The food we eat sends a message to the body with specific instructions. For example, “Make hormones! Clean up toxins! Trigger immune cells!” We need the right nutritional input to support our defense against disease.
Certain vitamins and minerals help the immune system fight off infection and inflammation. Whole foods are the best source of these nutrients. Dr. Joel Fuhrman explains, “Every strawberry has about 700 different nutrients. Every piece of broccoli has about 1,000. These phytochemicals are not optional; the human body needs these things for normal function of the immune system. You need hundreds and hundreds of different phytochemicals from an assortment of natural plant foods.” Let’s examine three specific nutrients.
- Vitamin C
How does vitamin C affect the immune system?
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, which neutralizes free radicals in the body to boost overall health. A 2019 analysis of 18 trials revealed that vitamin C decreased the length of stay for patients in the ICU. In 3 cases, vitamin C helped reduce the duration of mechanical respiratory ventilation.
Sources of vitamin C
- Red and green bell peppers
- Citrus, such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit
- Leafy greens
- Prebiotics and Probiotics
How do prebiotics and probiotics affect the immune system?
Probiotics and prebiotics nourish the gut microbiome. According to Brigid Titgemeier MS, RDN, LD, IFNCP, there is a close association between the gut and the immune system because the gut has the largest collection of immune cells in the body. The beneficial bacteria found in the large intestine play an important role in stimulating immune function to fight pathogens. Nourish the gut with balanced, colorful foods high in dietary fiber.
Sources of prebiotics and probiotics
- Organic apple cider vinegar
- Lupini beans
- Omega 3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
How does Omega 3 affect the immune system?
Healthy fats are a primary building block of the immune system. They stimulate the T cells that hunt pathogens. Additionally, fatty acids inhibit the production of inflammatory markers. The body cannot produce Omega 3 essential fatty acids. It is necessary to obtain them through high quality food sources and supplementation.
Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids
- Wild salmon
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Brussel sprouts
Small changes can make a big difference! Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of packaged snacks. Prep healthy meals ahead to resist the temptation of fast food when hungry. Choose more whole foods and less processed. Every snack and meal is an opportunity to invest in your health and wellness!
The purpose of this article is to compliment, not replace, CDC guidelines. The content in this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions concerning medical conditions.