Eating Habits for a Healthy Immune System
You need a healthy immune system to fight off viruses that cause colds and flu. Your immune system defends your body against illness and keeps viruses out. If a virus does get in, your immune system seeks it out to destroy it.
A healthy diet is important to keep your immune system working at its best. However there is no single food, diet, supplement or herbal product that will give your immune system a ‘boost’ or that will prevent or treat the flu, including COVID-19.
Flu vaccines are the best way to prevent the flu, although at this time there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. If you do get the flu, your symptoms may be milder if you have been vaccinated. This fact sheet describes some steps that you can take to keep your immune system strong and healthy.
Steps you can take:
Choose a healthy lifestyle that includes the following habits:
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet daily.
- Eat a variety of colourful vegetables and fruits that provide a variety of antioxidants such as vitamin C, selenium and carotenoids. Include whole grain choices like whole grain bread, pasta and brown rice, whole oats, barley and quinoa that provide lots of fibre and nutrients like iron, niacin and folic acid.
- Select a variety of protein foods like legumes (eg cooked dried beans, peas and lentils), nuts and seeds, eggs, lower fat dairy products, fish, chicken and meat that provide nutrients in addition to protein like iron and zinc along with calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins from dairy products.
- Be physically active and follow Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/physical-activity/ . It can help the immune system stay strong and ready to fight certain illnesses if they occur.
Get adequate sleep. Aim for 7 to 8 hours each night.
Reduce stress. If you have a lot of stress it can weaken your immune system, which may make you more likely to catch a cold or the flu.
Wash your hands for 20 seconds before preparing, eating or drinking food and beverages, or use a hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes or nose with unwashed hands.
- If you drink, alcohol, follow Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. https://www.ccsa.ca/canadas-low-risk-alcohol-drinking-guidelines-brochure
- Get help to quit smoking if you smoke.
Probiotics are good bacteria that may help keep your immune system healthy. Probiotics may decrease the number of colds you catch and shorten the length of your cold. More research is needed to determine the type and amount of probiotic that may help.
There are supplements such as vitamin C, zinc and North American ginseng that may help you have fewer colds, reduce your cold symptoms or help your cold go away more quickly.
If you want to try probiotics or supplements to help fight colds, talk to a registered dietitian or pharmacist to know what is right for you. If you do take supplements, make sure they have a Natural Product Number(NPN) from Health Canada.
Steps to Healthy Eating https://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=3127&trid=27126&trcatid=467
Canada’s Food Guide: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/
Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/physical-activity/
These resources are provided as sources of additional information believed to be reliable and accurate at the time of publication (April 2020) and should not be considered an endorsement of any information, service, product or company. © 2020 Dietitians of Canada. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counseling with a registered dietitian. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.
Tips on how to eat healthy during a pandemic
Be prepared in the event that you need to self-isolate by having a fridge and pantry full of nutrient-dense foods that will last you at least 2 weeks. The following tips will help you to have a balanced healthy diet whether you are in isolation or not. A healthy diet allows your body to function at its most optimal level to promote wellness and fight disease.
MAKE A LIST – Discard foods that have expired. Make space for new items and place items in front that have best before or expiry dates within the next 6 months to ensure they get used first. Record the remaining items that you have and their quantities to determine what you need to shop for. Prepare your grocery list (use our basic foods checklist for ideas and to make sure you don’t forget any important items).
PROTEIN FOODS – Include protein foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel and tuna) for their anti-inflammatory benefits. Choose lean meats such as skinless chicken breast, pork tenderloin, centre cut loin chop, inside/eye of round/sirloin tip beef roast or stewing beef (use slow cooking methods to tenderize leaner cuts of meat). Consider plant-based options such as tofu, tempeh, and texturized vegetable protein which can be used in soups/stews or stir-frys. Soy based veggie ground round can be used in pasta sauces, tacos, and shepherd’s pie. Try vegan burgers and simulated meats in place of meat to reduce saturated fat in your diet. Legumes such as beans, split-peas and lentils are versatile, an excellent source of fibre, and are low in fat. They can be used in soups, chili, wraps, grain & veggie salads, and made into dips. Frozen edamame beans (in pods and also shelled) can be eaten for protein-rich snacks and used in stir-fry’s and whole grain bowls.
WHOLE GRAINS – Brown rice, quinoa, barley, bulgur, buckwheat, and farro can be used for grain salads, sides or in soups. Include whole wheat pasta for spaghetti, tuna pasta salad or a pesto veggie pasta. Stock up on whole grain, low sugar, high fibre cold and hot cereals that have no added sugar or less than 6 g of sugar per serving and 5 g of fibre or more. Examples include: Shredded wheat, Fibre one, Natures Path cereals and Barbara’s puffins. Store whole-grain sliced bread in the freezer and take out a slice or two at a time, as needed.
PRODUCE – When selecting produce, choose a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure a diversity of vitamins and minerals. Keep veggies and fruits separated, to prevent premature ripening. Be sure to include dark green and bright orange fruits and vegetables such as kale, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, sweet potato, squash, apricots, and oranges.
FRUITS – Longer shelf-life fruits include oranges (3-4 wks in fridge), grapefruit (6 wks) and apples (4-6 wks) whereas green bananas will ripen in 2-5d. Choose canned fruits packed in juice or water and unsweetened apple sauce. Frozen fruits such as berries, pomegranate and mangoes, can be defrosted for desserts, added to smoothies, oatmeal or yogurt. Dried fruits such as unsweetened raisins, cranberries, cherries, apples, apricots and mangoes can be added to trail mix, cereal, yogurt or salads.
VEGETABLES – Use up your fresh produce first and keep the following on hand – canned peas, corn, green beans, carrots, beets and pure pumpkin purée (add to smoothies and baked goods). Look for reduced or no sodium varieties where possible. Stock up on frozen vegetables, including leafy greens such as kale and spinach, as well as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower rice and spiralized vegetables (beets/carrots/zucchini). Store longer-lasting fresh vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, hard squash, garlic, and rutabagas in a cool dry dark place such as your pantry (keep potatoes separate from onions). The remainder should be kept in the fridge. Eggplant, celery, peppers, peas, artichokes, zucchini, cauliflower and cucumber will last up to a week in the fridge. Carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, and radishes can be stored in a plastic produce bag and will last up to 2 weeks. More delicate items such as mushrooms (store in a paper bag or pre-packaged container), brussel sprouts, green beans, and broccoli will last approximately 3 to 5 days.
HEALTHY FATS – Nuts, nut butters and seeds also add protein, fibre, vitamin E and minerals to snacks and meals. Try the natural variety with no added salt, oil or sugar. Buy frozen avocado chunks to add to smoothies and salads. Try guacamole as a snack. Heart healthy oils include olive, canola, avocado, and safflower.
SNACKS – Include granola bars (choose brands with less sugar and more fibre) examples include Kashi and Fibre One. Whole grain crackers like Ryvita and Finncrisp pair nicely with hummus. Try roasted chickpeas, soy nuts, wasabi peas (if you like spicy heat) and whole-food energy bars such as Lara bars made from dried fruits and nuts. Simply protein bars are a good low sugar option. Harvest snacks green pea snap crisps and crispy minis rice chips can indulge a savoury craving and are low in fat. Dietitian’s fave go-to snack is always an apple with a handful of almonds!
Adapted by Nicole Kiss, RD from:
For the nutrient value of some common foods:
Web links for recipe ideas:
https://www.pinterest.ca (create a free account and search for healthy recipes)
https://www.eatright.org (search recipes)
Basic Foods Checklist
Knowing how to stock your kitchen can make meal planning much easier. Here are some basic foods to have on hand which will allow you to prepare simple meals. Adjust the list to include foods that you prefer.
In the Pantry
- Cereal (consider whole grain varieties with little to no added sugar)
Shredded wheat, Fibre one, All bran, Nature’s Path
- Oatmeal (old fashioned or rolled, quick, or steel cut)
- Pancake mix
Canned, Jarred, & Pouched Foods
- Fruits and vegetables (choose options without added sugar or salt)
- Meat, poultry, & seafood (fish, chicken, or other meats)
- Beans / legumes (choose no salt added variety)
Pinto, kidney, black, garbanzo, lentils, split-peas
- Soups (look for lower sodium varieties)
- Nut butter (try natural varieties with no added salt or sugar)
Peanut, almond, hazelnut & cashew
- Dried fruit
- Sauces (tomato, spaghetti, pizza)
- Broth or stock (chicken, beef or vegetable, try the low or no salt added variety)
Grains, Pasta & Sides
- Bread (consider whole grain varieties)
- Tortillas (try whole grain for making wraps)
- Taco shells
- Pasta (consider whole grain varieties)
Whole wheat, ancient grains, bean or brown rice pastas
- Rice (include some whole grain rice, such as brown rice)
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams
- Crackers (consider whole grain varieties)
Ryvita, Finncrisp, Triscuit, Mary’s brown rice crackers
- Nuts & seeds (choose natural without added oils or salt) Almonds, walnuts, cashews, hemp hearts (try on cereal, in a smoothie or yogurt), pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds (store in freezer)
Baking & Cooking Supplies
- Instant nonfat dry milk
- Boxed milk (plant based options include: soy, almond, rice)
- Flour (consider whole grain)
- Sugar (white granulated, brown)
- Seasonings & spices (salt, black pepper, garlic, ginger, turmeric, chill powder, cumin, bay leaf, oregano, italian spice, paprika, dry mustard)
- Oil for cooking (such as olive, canola, safflower)
Condiments & Salad Dressings
- Mayonnaise (choose a lower fat option)
- Salad dressing
In the Refrigerator
- Milk (fat-free, low-fat, or plant based including unsweetened soy, almond, cashew, or rice milk)
- Cheese (block, shredded, sliced, or string and consider lower fat options <20% M.F.)
- Yogurt (fat-free or low-fat and choose options with fewer or no added sugars)
- Meat alternatives (tofu, veggie ground round, simulated meat products)
- Non-hydrogenated margarine
In the Freezer
- Fruit (frozen blueberries, mango, mixed berries, avocado chunks for smoothies)
- Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower rice, stir-fry veggies)
- Meat & alternatives, seafood (chicken breast, ground beef/turkey, pork loin chops, salmon, shrimp, veggie burgers, vegan products)
- 100% fruit juice concentrate
- Waffles (consider whole grain varieties)
- Breads (consider whole grain varieties)
Adapted from: https://food.unl.edu/article/basic-foods-checklist-how-stock-your-kitchen-simple-meals
Therapeutic Nutrition Counselling
Service includes one-on-one therapeutic nutrition counselling.
Patients are encouraged to speak to their Primary Care Provider for a referral to the dietitian.