Building and Maintaining a Healthy Immune System During Challenging Times
Every fall it’s the same routine, cooler weather, and the potential for developing a mild cold or worse getting the flu. We stock up on tissues and hear over and over the importance of washing our hands. This year thanks to COVID-19 we have become experts in handwashing and can check that off the preparation list. The importance of staying healthy has been part of daily news broadcasts, social media postings, and newspaper articles since COVID-19 crept its way into our daily lives. We have put a focus on proper handwashing and social distancing, but have we put as much effort into keeping our immune system healthy?
A healthy immune system should not just be a top priority when pandemic or flu season hits, it should be something you think about daily. Each day you make choices on what to wear, places you must go and food you are going to eat. Balancing your plate each time you eat throughout the day with fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats or proteins will give you variety. The variety is in vitamins and minerals our bodies need to perform daily functions and build and maintain a healthy immune system.
Most commonly you might hear to eat foods with Vitamin C to build immunity. Eating Vitamin C rich foods like bell peppers, oranges, kiwis, broccoli, strawberries, and brussels sprouts will help strengthen your immune system, and help heal cuts and wounds, but Vitamin C rich foods alone will not create a healthy immune system. Vitamin A-rich foods also contribute to immunity and can be found in sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, ricotta cheese, herring, and cantaloupe just to name a few. Along with Vitamin A& C, Vitamin E helps provide protection for our cells as an antioxidant. Vitamin E rich foods are more limited but include nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. When you think of Vitamin D the first thing that comes to mind is strong bones, but did you know it plays a role in immune protection too? Its naturally found in organ meats and eggs and added to milk and cereal during processing. You can also make Vitamin D from the sun, and we are known as the sunshine state! Our cells need protection, but they also need oxygen. Foods such as beans, lean meats, tofu, and spinach are good sources of iron. Our bodies need iron for energy and to make new red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout our bodies. Minerals such as selenium and zinc contribute to immunity. Selenium can be found in fish, shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, and chicken. You will find zinc in some cold lozenges, but can be found in foods such as oysters, crab, lobster, beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products. Keeping the balance and including a variety of food groups will help make your plate more appealing and provide health benefits beyond immunity.
What you eat matters but balancing that with getting adequate sleep is another critical piece in building and maintaining a healthy immune system. Job responsibilities, parenting/caregiving, or our social habits may have an impact on the amount of sleep you get each day. Not getting enough sleep has a domino effect on our body’s ability to maintain a healthy immune system. It can cause an increased risk for infections, and increase opportunity for cancer, heart, and others health issues to occur. For more information on sleep and chronic disease visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html. Getting about 7-8 hours of sleep each night will provide the rest your body needs and help contribute to that healthy immune system we are all striving to achieve for a healthy today and even healthier tomorrow.