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Want to give your immune system a boost? Try these tricks

Suzi Fevens, a CanFitPro certified healthy eating and weight loss specialist based in Waterville, N.S. says we can help strengthen our immune systems with the food we eat. She recommends nuts and seeds, protein, probiotics, citrus fruits and orange vegetables.
Suzi Fevens, a CanFitPro certified healthy eating and weight loss specialist based in Waterville, N.S. says we can help strengthen our immune systems with the food we eat. She recommends nuts and seeds, protein, probiotics, citrus fruits and orange vegetables. - SaltWire Network

With COVID-19 still a major concern, many people are looking for ways to boost their immune systems to help prevent them from getting sick.

Pharmacist Keith Bailey, owner of Shoppers Drug Marts in both Conception Bay South and St. John’s, N.L., says he saw plenty of people who were looking for this kind of solution, especially from March until around July. Clients were tired, stressed and concerned, he says. With many gyms closed, social groups shut down and a general sense of inability to exercise and eat well - snacking was a challenge and lack of sleep was common, he says – they were looking for guidance on vitamins or supplements they could take to boost their health. Demand for multivitamins, immune boosters and sleep aids like melatonin was up, he says.

“As we have emerged from the dark days and are starting to get back on track, I have seen a shift to patients wondering about the fall season and warding off colds and flu specifically,” he says.

“Unfortunately, there is no particular magic bullet for strengthening the immune system.”

Food choices

But, one of the best things you can do to help, aside from getting the flu shot and washing your hands, is eating meals filled with a wide array of different coloured fruits and vegetables, healthy grains and protein, says Suzi Fevens, a CanFitPro certified healthy eating and weight loss specialist based in Waterville, N.S.

There are a variety of nutrients that can be beneficial for boosting our immune system including vitamin C, A and E, zinc, selenium, B vitamins and probiotics, says Ellen Greenan, a registered dietitian with Atlantic Superstore in Summerside and West Royalty, P.E.I.

“The best way to make sure you are meeting your needs for these nutrients is by eating a variety of nutritious foods,” she says.

Focus on including more variety and nutrient-dense foods in your diet to ensure you are getting the nutrients you need.

For immune health, Greenan recommends focusing on getting enough fruits, vegetable and protein throughout the day, as this can be an important part of meeting your nutrient needs.

Greenan’s top food choices that are high in these nutrients include:

  • Vitamin C: bell peppers, strawberries, oranges, broccoli
  • Zinc: oysters, lentils, beans, beef, pumpkin seeds
  • Vitamin A: sweet potato, carrots, spinach

Other foods recommended by Fevens for optimal health include:

  • Nuts and Seeds: high in vitamin E, which has antioxidants important for the maintenance of good health. They contain zinc which helps maintain immune function
  • Citrus Fruits: high in vitamin C, which also has antioxidants important for maintaining good health
  • Protein (found in meat, dairy, nuts, legumes, seafood, eggs, etc.): helps build and repair body tissue and antibodies

Probiotics

Fevens says focusing on gut health is also important, as 70 per cent of our immune system actually lives in our gut, so the food we eat has a huge impact on our ability to fight off germs and infections.

For optimal gut health, she recommends probiotic foods (found in fermented foods like yogurt and kefir), which may modulate immune function.

“Eating foods containing probiotics is preferred to taking a supplement whenever possible as food gives you added health benefits,” she says.

And if you can somehow work it in with the probiotics, Fevens says pre-biotic foods are also really important, too. Prebiotic foods act like fertilizer for probiotics which helps increase the good bacteria in your gut which in turn improves immune function. Try foods like quinoa, barley, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, apples, flaxseeds and wheat bran to boost your prebiotics, she says.

Skip - or at least limit - foods that are harmful to healthy gut flora, including alcohol, highly processed foods and foods high in simple sugars. These don't add any nutritional value to your body and can dampen your healthy digestive flora, she says.

Bailey says he does not recommend supplements as a way to boost the immune system.

“Supplements are usually only taken if we truly know someone is low in a particular mineral or vitamin. This may require blood work or other investigation,” he says.

Greenan concurs, adding that a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods should provide you with all the nutrients your body needs (with the exception of Vitamin D in the winter months).

If you follow a restrictive diet or have specific health concerns, Greenan suggests asking your healthcare provider If supplementation is required.

What about COVID-19?

. - 123RF Stock Photo
. - 123RF Stock Photo

When it comes to preventing COVID-19, many theories are circulating. The first being that vitamin D can ward off the infection. Bailey has done research into this and says there is no conclusive information.

“As with everything COVID-19 related, the body of evidence continues to shift as more information comes along in the future,” he says.

Vitamin D is very necessary in the body and has been shown to ward off certain cancers and improve mental health, he adds.

Another popular misconception is that zinc supplements can boost your immunity to fight against COVID-19.

“Zinc has a role in a normal healthy immune system, but it does not really boost,” explains Bailey. “If you were low in zinc, that could be an issue, but with a reasonable diet, the likelihood of that is low.”

What else can you do?

Besides food, other ways to boost your immune system include exercise and sleep, says Bailey. Exercise, in particular, has really been shown to allow the body and mind to be strengthened and become more resilient. There is a direct connection to your immune system, he says.

Sleep, he adds, is what he calls “nature’s restorer.” Above all, Bailey says Canadians are lacking enough sleep, with most studies showing on average seven to eight hours per day is needed to be refreshed. Most people are getting far less than that. Try to create a consistent time to go to bed and keep the last hour before bed sacred for winding down, avoiding screen time and other stimulation, he says.

“Create a plan for your meals, exercise and make time to relax. The better you plan, the more success you will have and the stronger your immune system will be,” says Bailey.

COVID-19, like every other viral condition from the common cold to flu, preys more heavily on those with a weakened immune system, especially the elderly and those with complicated medical conditions like COPD, says Bailey.

“We know the stronger your immune system is in general, the better you are able to fight off any of these conditions and emerge more resilient,” he says.

Greenan says overall, it is important to manage our expectations of what food alone can do. The most important steps you can take to prevent illness still stand: proper hand hygiene, annual flu shot and in the case of COVID-19, social distancing.

Immune-boosting Asian broccoli and peanut slaw

Ellen Greenan, a registered dietitian with Atlantic Superstore in Summerside and West Royalty, P.E.I. offers an easy recipe that incorporates immune-boosting nutrients. Asian Broccoli and Peanut Slaw contains both broccoli and bell peppers, which are high in vitamin C and A.  - SaltWire Network
Ellen Greenan, a registered dietitian with Atlantic Superstore in Summerside and West Royalty, P.E.I. offers an easy recipe that incorporates immune-boosting nutrients. Asian Broccoli and Peanut Slaw contains both broccoli and bell peppers, which are high in vitamin C and A. - SaltWire Network

Ellen Greenan, a registered dietitian with Atlantic Superstore in Summerside and West Royalty, P.E.I. offers an easy recipe that incorporates immune boosting nutrients. It is easy to make and contains both broccoli and bell pepper which are high in vitamin C and A.

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg (340 g) Broccoli Slaw
  • 1 Sweet red pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) Thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) Mayonnaise - Made with Whole Eggs
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) Memories Of Szechwan Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) Lightly Seasoned Dry Roasted Peanuts

How to make

  • Step 1. In large bowl, stir together slaw, red peppers and green onions. In small bowl, stir together mayonnaise and Memories sauce. Pour mayonnaise mixture over vegetable mixture, add peanuts and toss to coat. Cover and chill for 30 minutes. (Make ahead: May be made up to 24 hours ahead of serving.)
  • Step 2. Serve chilled, sprinkled with additional chopped peanuts if desired.

Recipe source PC.ca.

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