|Our immune systems are hard at work, ideally, helping fight off disease and infection in addition to helping you heal after you’ve been hurt or ill.
While any number of things in your environment — be it cold or flu bugs, bacteria or injury — can pose a risk to your health, there are things you can do to minimize your chances of contracting COVID-19 or any other illnesses. There is no known cure for coronavirus, but wearing face masks or shields, practicing social distancing, and washing hands frequently can help prevent contracting the disease.
In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to take steps to improve immune function.
A Balanced Diet
One way to boost your body’s disease-fighting ability is through a diet rich in plant-based foods.
With fruits and vegetables, you’re getting plenty of vitamins rich with antioxidants, crucial for health. They serve a number of functions, but usually neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, including fighting respiratory and immune diseases.
Vitamin C is seen as a kind of all-star antioxidant when we’re trying to avoid getting sick, or if we feel a tickle in our throats coming on. It boosts white blood cell production — key toward fighting infection — and while it isn’t a cure for a cold or flu (nothing truly is), it may help you recover more quickly.
Just be sure to get some every day — 75 mg for women or 90 mg for men — because the body doesn’t make it. A person doesn’t need to take mega-doses either. There’s a limited amount the body can absorb at any one time. Find it in citrus — grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges — or read on for other healthy choices.
There’s a reason we continue to sip chicken soup when we’re sick. It makes you feel better by lowering inflammation (thanks to the presence of zinc) but it’s also full of vitamin B-6, which helps your body form healthy red blood cells. It’s not limited to chicken, however; turkey and other poultry are healthful, too. The broth also has nutrients that are good for the gut and immune system.
Garlic makes its way into everything from pasta dishes to Asian cuisine. And little wonder. It adds flavor, but it also is a great way to fight infections. What’s more, a study on aged garlic extract found that people who took it during cold and flu season experienced less severe symptoms and missed less time off school or work.
Ginger is another pantry must-have. Besides adding some heat to countless dishes,drinks and desserts, it’s been used to help treat colds and soothe flu symptoms for literally thousands of years. Part of its magic is it serves as an excellent anti-inflammatory, helping ease the agony of sore throats along with other aches and pains.
Green tea also is rich with antioxidants, specifically flavonoids and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG has been found to help improve immune functioning. Another compound found in green tea is the amino acid L-theanine, which may give our bodies’ T cells some extra germ-fighting ability.
Vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli are all excellent sources of antioxidants, as well — especially vitamins A and C, to keep the immune system humming along.
Besides being a healthier substitute for refined sugar, honey — especially the darker varieties — is rich with antioxidants. Studies have found it helps reduce coughing. Paired with ginger, lemon, and turmeric, it makes a soothing, yet spicy way to ease congestion and soothe inflamed throats.
Papayas, native to Mexico, are also chock-full of vitamin C. One medium fruit has twice the recommended daily amount. It also has the anti-inflammatory enzyme papain, and good-for-you potassium, magnesium, and folate.
Red Bell Peppers
Most people think citrus is the biggest source of vitamin C, but red bell peppers have more of the nutrient. Nearly three times as much as your average orange. They also contain beta carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A, also good for immunity.
Besides being an ingredient in many global cuisines, turmeric is another anti-inflammatory wonder. It’s long been used to help with arthritis, but curcumin, which gives it that golden-orange hue, also helps the immune system. Studies are looking deeper into its purported antiviral properties.
Zinc, which can be found in shellfish like oysters, crab and lobster as well as red meat, poultry, and whole grains, keeps our immune cells humming along and helps facilitate healing of wounds. Too much, however, can lead to nausea, diarrhea,and flu-like symptoms, or result in frequent infections (due to suppressed immune response). Most people, when they take too much zinc, tend to overdo the supplements. In a balanced diet, however, it’s difficult to consume excessively high amounts.
The Healthy Way
There’s no one food or drink that’s going to guarantee good health. A daily glass of orange juice can be a great way to get vitamin C, but a more holistic approach is better. A balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein is an excellent start to keep the body and brain in optimal health. Getting enough sleep, avoiding tobacco, exercising regularly, and reducing stress are also good for overall health.
One habit that may negatively impact immunity is alcohol consumption. The occasional glass of wine or cocktail can be fine, but it’s been well documented that alcohol can weaken the immune system, interfering with its ability to fight infection as it stalls recovery.