These Foods Can Help Boost Your Immune System

healthy food

Dr. Mark Hyman shares some advice for eating during this time

Throughout these uncertain times, I’ve been speaking with experts on Instagram Live — to bring important information directly to the Wake-Up Call community. One of my recent interviewees? My friend and go-to health expert Dr. Mark Hyman, author of Food Fix. During our Friday chat, I asked Dr. Hyman about how we can boost our immune system right now — we adapted his response below.

Right now, we all need to protect our own health in order to take care of our community at large. Processed foods that are high in sugar and starch are immune-suppresants, which means they’re actually going to make your body less able to fight the coronavirus. So for your own self-interest, it’s important to eat protective foods that will boost immunity and make you more resilient. The foods you think of as “comfort foods” may leave you more susceptible to getting sick, which will add to the burden on the healthcare system. If we’re not taking care of ourselves, we’re going to get sick, we’re going to further burden the hospitals, and it’s just going to make things worse. So I think there’s an argument to be made, both for your own health and for your social conscience to focus on taking care of yourself.

Let’s talk about foods and supplements that can help strengthen your immune system. There’s some interesting data out there about probiotics and gut health. Sixty percent of your immune system is in your gut, and the best way to take care of your gut is to eat probiotic and prebiotic foods. Prebiotic foods are what you can think of as the fertilizer for the good bugs in your gut. Some examples of prebiotic foods are asparagus, artichokes, jicama, bananas and plantains.

Probiotics are the good bacteria that keep your gut healthy. Some great probiotic foods are sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, yogurt and kefir. These foods will keep your gut healthy, and keep it from getting inflamed. Taking care of your gut is a great way to bolster your immune system and protect yourself.

Protein is also critical for your immune system, because all of your antibodies are made of protein. That’s why we see so many people in the developing world die from relatively minor diseases — because they have protein malnutrition. It’s especially important to boost your immune system as you get older, so if you’re in the vulnerable older population, it’s really important to eat your protein right now.

In terms of supplements, I would say a good multivitamin, some vitamin C, vitamin D, and maybe a little bit of zinc. I also suggest a vitamin D supplement, because it’s hard for most people to get vitamin D naturally. If you’re south of Atlanta and you go outside for 20 minutes a day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., you’ll get enough vitamin D. But most of us don’t live in areas where that’s possible. So there’s no harm in taking 1000–2000 mg a day of vitamin D. Eighty percent of us are deficient in it. Porcini mushrooms are a natural source of vitamin D, and so is herring.

The most important thing for people to do right now is to try to eat a nutrient-dense diet, and focus on the four pillars of health: food, sleep, exercise, and stress reduction. Supplements are just that — a supplement. And if you want to have a glass of alcohol every now and then, that’s fine. But it should be a serving — so one oz of liquor, 5 oz of wine, 10 oz of beer. If you’re overall healthy, then having a glass or two of wine is okay, as long as you’re not doing it every day.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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