This post was written by Sarah Weaver, MSN, FNP-C, HN-BC, Integrative Nurse Practitioner, Holistic Nursing Awareness and Empowerment Leader, Parkview Health.
Going back to school can add an extra dose of stress. This year is no different, with many children returning for in-person instruction, creating layers of questions and concerns about the exposure and possible quarantine procedures.
And, while we all know the basics of staying healthy right now, including social distancing, hand washing, wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, and staying home when we’re not feeling well – it is important that we all do our part to help flatten the curve of the Delta variant and not expose high risk individuals.
This begs the question, beyond these basics of health security, how can we strengthen our immune system? Let’s take a closer look at what this might involve, including things that help nourish the body in the face of infection and those you should avoid.
Eat the rainbow. In the Holistic Nursing Certification program, we teach our clients to fill 50% of their plate with non-starchy vegetables. Preferably, these vegetables would be of a wide variety of colors. Each color has a unique set of phytonutrients that help support the body. For example, red and orange peppers have higher levels of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and bioflavonoids, which help the immune system. While green foods like avocados, broccoli, and limes help reduce inflammation, cellular protection, and brain health.
Manage your stress (without alcohol). While it may be tempting to drink while watching the news, it will only increase inflammation and tax your immune system on many levels. Instead, reduce body-mind stress and go for a walk or bike ride outside, try an exercise video on YouTube, and stay hydrated with water and herbal teas. The goal is to consume about half of your body weight in water, up to 100 ounces.
Use supplements (responsibly). Much like last year’s toilet paper craze, it’s easy to go overboard with supplements. There are many different products that support the immune system. The best thing you can do is get most of your nutrition from whole foods and use supplements to help fill in the gaps.
If you don’t know where to start, here are some of the pillars of healthy immune function:
- Zinc: The normal development and function of the immune system requires adequate levels of zinc. Capsules are okay, but lozenges are better. Plus, foods like beef, baked beans, pumpkin seeds, spinach, asparagus, lamb, sesame seeds, chickpeas, and lentils are all great options to boost your rate. zinc.
- Vitamin C: This can increase cellular uptake while stimulating white blood cells, which are your immune system’s soldiers. You might even consider using liposomal vitamin C if your budget allows. Citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, guava, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, tomato, kale, and mango are great sources of this essential nutrient.
- Vitamin A: This helps produce white blood cells, which fight viruses and bacteria. It also helps form the mucous membranes that line the airways. However, in supplement form, you benefit more from retinyl palmitate than beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A). That said, sweet potatoes, carrots, green vegetables like spinach and kale, cantaloupe, and peppers are great sources of beta-carotene which, depending on the body’s needs, will turn into vitamin A.
- Vitamin D: This essential vitamin helps gene expression in the immune system. And, unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is not uncommon in the Midwest. Fortunately, you can get your levels checked with a simple blood test.
Not to do
White dangers. The first step in restarting your immune system is to avoid highly inflammatory foods. It means sugar or whatever your body converts to sugar. For many, that means reducing foods like sugar, bread, noodles, and rice, to 1 to 2 servings per day. Sugar triggers a cascade of inflammatory responses by increasing insulin. The goal of sugar intake should be between 4 and 6 grams of added sugars per meal or 24 grams per day. Instead, stock up on complex carbohydrates like beans, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and fruit.
Remember, a resilient immune system is a gift to yourself. Paying attention to your diet can help strengthen your body’s response and give you extra peace of mind.
Sarah Weaver, Integrative Medicine Nurse Practitioner and Parkview Holistic Nursing Certification Program Coordinator, is hosting a free virtual event. Join Sarah as she discusses a holistic approach to supporting your immune system. This event will take place on Thursday, August 26, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information or to register, please visit our event page or call 260-266-6500 or toll free 844-835-0003.
Visit our calendar of events to learn more about the Center for Healthy Living programs or sign up for our email newsletter to receive valuable information on our featured courses and events.
Gupta C, Prakash D. Phytonutrients as Therapeutic Agents. J Integral Supplement Med. September 2014; 11 (3): 151-69.
Leiherer A, Mündlein A, Drexel H. Phytochemicals and their impact on adipose tissue inflammation and diabetes. Vascul Pharmacol. 2013 Jan; 58 (1-2): 3-20. doi: 10.1016 / j.vph.2012.09.002.
Liu RH. Food bioactive compounds and their health implications. J Food Sci. 2013 Jun 78 Suppl 1: A18-25. doi: 10.1111 / 1750-3841.12101.
Kozłowska A, Szostak-Wegierek D. Flavonoids — Food Sources and Health Benefits. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2014; 65 (2): 79-85.
Manganaris GA, Goulas V, Vicente AR, Terry LA. Berry antioxidants: berries with great benefits. J Sci Agroalimentaire. 2014 Mar 30; 94 (5): 825-33. doi: 10.1002 / jsfa.6432.
Navarro SL, Schwarz Y, Song X, Wang CY, et al. Cruciferous vegetables have varying effects on biomarkers of systemic inflammation in a randomized controlled trial in healthy young adults. J Nutr. 2014 November; 144 (11): 1850-7. doi: 10.3945 / jn.114.197434.
Perveen R, Suleria HA, Anjum FM, Butt MS, et al. Chemistry of carotenoids and lycopenes of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum); Metabolism, Absorption, Butrition, and Related Health Claims – A Comprehensive Review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015 Jun 7; 55 (7): 919-29. doi: 10.1080 / 10408398.2012.657809