Health expert: Your immune system is the best defense against any virus or infection

By Barbara Gutierrez

Health expert: Your immune system is the best defense against any virus or infection

By Barbara Gutierrez
A University of Miami registered dietitian suggests ways to become stronger and healthier.

Our immune system is like a persistent warrior.

It fights any infection that enters our body and recognizes any germ that it has encountered so that it can defeat it in the future. Keeping our system healthy and strong is crucial for good health, particularly during a time when a pandemic is in our midst. 

Jacqueline ColonJacqueline Colon, a registered dietitian with the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center, answers questions and provides tips about how to improve our immune system and be healthier during these uncertain times.

What foods can boost your immune system?

Foods high in antioxidants are those that have benefits to boost our immune system, such as colorful fruits and vegetables (carrots, dark leafy greens, and berries).

Along with a balanced diet, it is important to drink seven to eight glasses of water per day to also help the immune system. You can add fresh sliced lemon, mint, or thyme to a large pitcher of water and let it diffuse.

A  balanced diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats. It is important to limit sugar and heavily processed foods, because those are empty calories that promote inflammation and decrease our immune system. Stock up on healthier options that include nuts, seeds, oats, lentils, and frozen vegetables.

Are there vitamins that can help?

Vitamins and minerals that can help boost the immune system include the following: Vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage and maintain health; Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight infection; Vitamin A, an antioxidant that also helps the immune system fight infection; and Zinc, to control inflammation.

If you are consuming a diet rich in fruit and dark leafy greens/vegetables, there isn’t much need to supplement with vitamins. However, individuals who have low immune systems, vitamin deficiency, and a chronic disease should ask their primary care doctor for guidance. 

Is taking probiotics helpful when you want to help your immune system?

Probiotics help boost the immune system by inhibiting the growth of harmful gut bacteria and by providing the body with good bacteria, promoting antibodies that help fight inflammation and infection.

It seems that if we are stuck at home we will be snacking more. Besides fruits and nuts, what else can we eat?

Only snack if hungry, not bored. Some options include:

  • plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit
  • apple slices with peanut or almond butter
  • whole grain toast with peanut or almond butter and ½ banana
  • baked kale chips
  • cheese sticks
  • hot ginger or green tea
  • low-calorie popcorn 

Does exercise help the immune system?

Exercise helps decrease inflammation and gives our immune system the support it needs to fight infection and virus.

There are plenty of at-home exercises that can be done to keep our body moving. You can find several free exercise videos on YouTube or social media to follow from home without the use of equipment. Plus, the greatest benefit from exercise is that it releases endorphins, which help reduce stress. 

Is sleep important?

Yes, get at least seven to nine hours of sleep daily in order to allow your cells to recover and repair essential functions. And, sleep contributes to a healthy immune system.