A slice of an orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime is shown.
Pay attention to what you put into your body so you can be your healthiest self. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

While keeping our distance from others, wearing masks and washing our hands remain the primary means to ward off COVID-19, there may also be a role for including foods naturally high in micronutrients to support your immune system.

In general, immune function declines as we age. The risk of severe infection with COVID-19 trends with increasing age and pre-existing chronic illness.

A poor diet, characterized by high intake of processed foods and meats with low intake of whole plant foods, is a prime risk factor for chronic disease and is the defining features of the standard American diet.

This diet also creates deficiencies in micronutrients, which are essential vitamins and minerals necessary for proper immune function to prevent both acute and chronic illnesses. Eating a variety of whole plant foods provides our bodies with protective micronutrients, including zinc and Vitamin C.

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin and acts as a strong antioxidant, meaning it clears inflammation.

This systematic review found Vitamin C may be effective in reducing respiratory illness. Optimal whole food sources of Vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Brussels sprouts

Zinc is an essential mineral and cofactor in enzyme reactions that support proper immune response. This analysis showed that patients had a more rapid recovery from respiratory illness when treated with zinc supplementation.

Rather than taking supplements, try increasing your intake of zinc-rich foods like:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds

Fiber is very important to a healthy immune system, too. That’s because it feeds healthy gut microbes, which are the first line of defense against viruses and bacteria.

Whole foods are preferable to supplements because the body can better absorb vitamins and nutrients in food form. But the one exception is Vitamin D, which is found most commonly in sunlight. A Vitamin D supplement is a good idea if you live in a cold climate with limited sun exposure.

And don’t forget to drink lots of water. Water works to detoxify your system and bring down inflammation.

As a special bonus, I’d like to introduce you to my own health elixir, which I’m enjoying several times a week with my family. Here’s the simple recipe for “Dr. Kristi’s Health Elixir.”

To a blender, add:

  • One whole peeled grapefruit or orange
  • ¼ inch peeled ginger root
  • ¼ – ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ cup water
  • If desired, for sweetness add ½ tsp honey or maple syrup or pitted date; for heat, add pinch of cayenne pepper