What to know about nutrition and immunity during COVID-19

Last updated: 04-15-2020

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What to know about nutrition and immunity during COVID-19

The relationship between nutrition and the immune system has been a topic of interest for many with the increasing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many articles, interviews and social media posts detailing various foods, supplements and diets to help prevent getting this virus. But does anything actually help?

There are definite connections between getting enough nutrition and immune function. It’s well understood that people who are malnourished or who don’t get enough nutrients can have a weakened immune system. Some individuals who may be at a higher risk for a weak immune system are those with chronic diseases and the elderly. However, most healthy people can stay nourished and avoid deficiency with a healthful diet.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, here’s how these major nutrients promote a healthy immune system:

To get the recommended servings of each food group, the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate is a great resource to show what to include at meals to achieve a general, healthful diet that provides the nutrients we need to keep our immune systems strong.

There are no dietary supplements that can prevent or cure COVID-19. Many unregulated supplements are being sold and advertised as curative for COVID-19. Unregulated supplements can be dangerous to your health, especially when taken with prescription medications for chronic health conditions. Check with your physician before beginning any type of nutrition supplement. The best way to get the necessary nutrients is from whole foods.

There are many dietary supplements that advertise as being able to fight off the common cold or rhinovirus. However, there’s no solid evidence that supplements can prevent disease caused by viruses. Unfortunately, supplements can be sold with labeling that may make you think otherwise. Vitamin C is a good example of this. In a review discussing the use of vitamin C supplementation in prevention and treatment of the common cold, vitamin C supplementation prior to the start of cold symptoms wasn’t found to prevent getting a cold, and had only a small effect on the length of illness or severity of symptoms. There was no reduction in symptoms/severity found in those who supplemented at the start of their cold. 

In times like these when there are many mixed messages out there, it’s important to remember there are no good or bad foods. Frozen, canned and packaged foods are good options to help you keep nourished and shop less frequently, so you can stay safely at home. Samantha Cochrane is a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

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