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Eat well to keep your immune system strong

A pair of hands chop vegetables on a wood cutting board.

By now, chances are you know the advice on protecting yourself and others from the coronavirus: Keep your distance. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. And so on. But here's one bit of advice to think about too: Eat healthy foods.

Eating nutritiously has always been a way to stay healthy. Eating well strengthens your immune system, and a strong immune system helps protect you from illness. And while no one food or diet can prevent illness, eating healthy can help your body prevent, fight and recover from infections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What does healthy eating look like?

Of course, it's best to keep your immune system healthy all the time, not just when a virus is going around. That means focusing on a well-balanced diet, filled with healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, these nutrients can help strengthen your immune system:

Probiotics. These good bacteria can be found in cultured dairy products like yogurt.

Protein. This may be especially helpful in healing and recovery. You can find this in plant and animal products, such as milk, eggs, beef, chicken, fish, nuts, beans and seeds.

Vitamin A. This helps regulate the immune system and protect against infections. Look for it in sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, eggs, or milk and cereal fortified with vitamin A.

Vitamin C. Look for this in citrus fruits. It helps the immune system by increasing the amount of antibodies in your system.

Vitamin D. Find it in fatty fish and eggs, as well as drinks fortified with vitamin D.

Vitamin E. This works as an antioxidant. Antioxidants decrease inflammation. Find vitamin E in fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils and peanut butter.

Zinc. This may help wounds heal. You can find it in wheat germ, beans and tofu. But zinc is best absorbed from animal sources like beef and fish.

The best way to get the nutrients your immune system needs is to include a wide variety of healthy foods in your diet. That's usually a better option than a supplement. Overloading on specific nutrients won't give your immune system a super boost. And taking too much of some of them can actually do more harm than good.

Take an all-around approach

Eating nutritious foods is just one way to strengthen your immune system. Other good habits include:

  • Getting a good amount of sleep each night.
  • Being active every day.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Coping with stress and anxiety in healthy ways, like deep breathing or exercise.

And of course, a healthy diet isn't a replacement for other steps to protect yourself from COVID-19. It's still essential to:

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others in public.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Keep away from sick people.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean and disinfect shared surfaces daily.
  • Wear a cloth face mask in public.

To learn more ways to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy during the pandemic, visit our Coronavirus topic center.

Reviewed 12/29/2020

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