If you are one of the 750,000 people to get Covid in the US today, there are foods you can eat to help your body withstand the virus and even get through it sooner, so long as you also take care of yourself by sleeping and drinking fluids as you would do for the common cold or a sore throat.
Hopefully, you have mild symptoms, that resemble nothing more than a cold, due to the fact that you are vacc’d and boosted. But no matter what your immunization status, there are ways to help your immune system fight off a case of COVID just as it needs to battle the flu or even the common cold, since all these viruses trigger the body’s immune defense. If you eat immune-boosting foods and take care of yourself, you may even experience fewer severe symptoms and get through your COVID case that much faster.
For what to eat to strengthen your immune system against COVID (either before or after you get it) we spoke with an immunologist and specialist, Dr. Robert Laºhita, who is Professor of Medicine at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine and has been affiliated with Weill Cornell and other venerable hospitals. He is the author of Immunity Strong, which tells readers how to kick up their immune systems to live longer, healthier lives. Dr. Bob (as he requests to be called) has some very practical and actionable advice for what to do if you get COVID and pretty much every other virus or infection out there.
“Your immune system is like the police department in a big city and that city is your body, and it has to watch out for crimes big and small and do its job to keep everything and everyone safe and sound,” Dr. Bob told The Beet. In more scientific terms, the driver of the immune system, the dispatch that signals to the body that everything is quiet, or to sound the alarms, is your gut and the microbiome living within it.
The billions of tiny organisms found in the gut are not bad for you but co-exist in a way that acts as the body’s first line of defense, so when you eat a diet rich in probiotics (like fruits and vegetables) and prebiotics (like fermented foods and drinks such as kombucha) it is a great way to give your microbiome all the energy it needs to create a healthy immune system that can head off any infection.
The 7 Foods to eat that will help you if you get COVID
Here are the best vitamins and minerals to help boost your immunity, but first, Dr. Bob says, he highly recommends that you take a multivitamin every day to fill in the gaps
“I would not have always recommended this, but at the point, we are now at with COVID and our poor diets, I think it’s wise,” he says. “With 9 out of 10 Americans not eating the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day –or not even getting three if they’re lucky– it may be time to bring back the multivitamin.”
Of course, it’s better to get your nutrients from the diet, but at this point, the average American diet is not providing what the immune system needs to function properly, Dr. Bob warns us. The most important vitamins and minerals we should be eating more of, that we are not getting from the diet, are Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and zinc. “These are immune co-factors that help strengthen your immune system and help fortify it. Zinc, he says, is too often overlooked.
I strongly recommend everyone take a multivitamin every day. I have a dispenser and I take it every day. Multis have been ‘poo-poo’d’ or dismissed. I remember doing a magazine article years ago when this was the case. Everyone thought that only children needed a multi.”
But today most Americans don’t get all the nutrients they need from their diet. Only 10 percent of Americans get the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. In fact, you’re lucky if you get three, says Dr. Bob. “And there are specific immunity drivers that are essential now in the days of Covidd, such as Vitamin C, D, A, and E that you need to supplement. Iron and zinc are especially hard to get enough of if you are plant-based,” explains Dr. Bob. “So instead of worrying about it, just supplement.”
Immunity Booster 1. Vitamin C
Your daily intake should be well over 500 and up to 1000 milligrams a day is healthy, says Dr. Bob. The easiest way to get it is from citrus fruits like oranges. “I eat a clementine in the morning and one at dinner time,” he says since they have about 35 mg each. “And I get vitamin C in the multivitamin I take each morning. We know from research that a vitamin C dose of over 500 milligrams a day can help combat the common cold – and guess what? The omicron is related to the common cold.”
Eat citrus fruits like an orange in the morning (51 mg of vitamin C), or drink lemon water when you wake up (a lemon has 30 mg of vitamin C on average). Grapefruit is also high in vitamin C (38 mg for half a grapefruit) but Dr. Bob adds: “Make sure your medications are compatible since grapefruit can accelerate drug elimination or it can potentiate blood thinners – if you are taking those.”
Bottom Line: Eat as much citrus as you like to get vitamin C all day long.
Immunity Booster 2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for immunity and most people only get a fraction of what they need, especially in the winter months when we are not exposed to as much sunlight as the rest of the year. Dr. Bob says you can either frontload your D vitamin for the week and take one large dose once a week, or you can take it daily and make sure to take it with calcium so your body absorbs what you need.
“You need 50,000 units a week or 500 a day with calcium,” he says. “I advise every patient to get a Vitamin D test from their doctor since during the winter our D levels drop. So chances are you are deficient and don’t know it. And for women or anyone with autoimmune diseases, who I see a lot in my practice, they are often short on D. So just assume you need to take vitamin D.
But don’t overdose with vitamin D. You only need an average of 500 mg a day, and some people who have taken five times that amount or more on a daily basis have had adverse side effects, such as kidney stones. As for taking it once a week, yes, your body can sustain that big amount once a week. Add it to juice, so it gets absorbed without disturbing your digestion.”
Bottom Line: Take 500 mg of vitamin D a day with calcium for best immune function
Immunity Booster 3. Zinc
Zinc is one of the key elements that you should take for general immunity, and studies have shown that it can help reduce the symptoms of COVID-19. How? zinc helps the body build the lymphocytes that your body needs to send out the immune cells into the body to kill off invaders of all kinds, and even shorten a common cold. “Zinc is crucial for normal development and function of cells mediating nonspecific immunity such as neutrophils and natural killer cells,” according to one study.
Zinc is also helpful in metabolism function. The Mayo Clinic website states: “Evidence suggests that if zinc lozenges or syrup is taken within 24 hours after cold symptoms start, the supplement can help shorten the length of colds.” Women need 8 mg daily and men 11 mg.
The best foods for zinc include tofu, hem, lentils, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, shiitake mushrooms, black beans, green peas and cashews.
Dr. Bob says it’s easier to take zinc than to get it in diet, so he keeps zinc lozenges on his desk and pops one a day. In fact, they are so popular that as he reached for one his supply was out. “I keep them right here on my desk but the nurses take them. They work! You can get them at the supermarket.”
Bottom Line: Take zinc (either 8 or 11 mg depending) to shorten the symptoms of the virus
Immunity Booster 4 & 5. Vitamin A & E for Immunity and function.
Studies show that Vitamin A is crucial for promoting healthy growth and development of cells and protecting the epithelial tissue that surrounds all your organs and that infections or viruses have to pass through to attack any parts of the body. It is also essential to creating healthy mucus which lines the nose and helps capture invading airborne agents that you might inhale. “Vitamin A is also known as an anti-inflammation vitamin because of its critical role in enhancing immune function,” studies have found.
“I take vitamin E for my skin and immune support,” Dr. Bob adds. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant in the human body that also helps the immune system fight infections. One way it does this, studies show, is that It widens blood vessels and this helps to keep clots from forming in them.
“It’s hard to get all the vitamin E you need from diet, so do take a supplement. I take 200 units of E every day.” Vitamin E , which is found in nuts, oil and other foods, has anti-aging benefits and can prevent inflammation, lower the risk of heart disease and some cancers, studies have found.
Bottom Line: Take Vitamins A and E to boost immunity, either a supplement or in food
Immunity Booster 6. Iron
Iron is essential to the immune response in the body, studies have shown. “The role of iron in immunity is necessary for immune cells proliferation and maturation, particularly lymphocytes, associated with the generation of a specific response to infection,” according to one study.
“Most people think iron only comes from animal products but in fact, watercress is high in iron,” says Dr. Bob. So are spinach and arugula. Beans are rich sources of iron, as are pumpkin seeds and quinoa. Eat white mushrooms, lentils, potatoes, tofu among other high iron foods. It’s actually easy to get enough iron on a plant-based diet.
“Many vegetables and most legumes contain iron,” says Dr. Bob. Men need 8 mg a day while women need over double that amount, or 18 mg a day.
The best way to get all these every day is simply to take a multivitamin, says Dr. Bob.
Bottom Line: You need iron to create healthy immune cells. Get it in beans and vegetables
Immunity Booster 7. Take pre- and pro-biotics for gut health
And Dr. Bob adds: “We need to think about the microbiome, the billions of bacteria that live in the but as well as the lungs, around the hear, in every part of our bodies, which should not be thought of as bad – but rather as co-existing with us to help keep the body running smoothly. You need probiotics and prebiotics, in the form of fiber-filled foods or fermented drinks like kombucha, to feed these organisms and let them signal to the immune system that everything is a-okay.”
Bottom Line: Eat a diet rich in fiber to create a healthy gut microbiome to spur immunity
How overall diet plays into the strength of our immune system
So what else can you do if your aim is to avoid Covid, or get better once you’ve tested positive for the virus? Diet only plays one role, but the rest of it is fairly common sense, says Dr. Bob.
Get sleep. It’s important to get enough sleep and to manage stress and exercise every day. Even if that is the elliptical or the bicycle or just walking every day.
Exercise daily. Get on the elliptical or the bicycle every day, or swim or take a walk. You need to move every single day to show your immune system that you are healthy and able. This motion not only makes your heart healthier but also every other cell in your body.
Prioritize relationships. Intimacy boosts immunity. So having a strong relationship is also important in boosting the immune system and the endocrine system and works hand in hand with what I call the biological soul and that is the immune system.
Manage stress. The brain is integrated into this as well. That’s where de-stressing comes in.
The brain is the central control center and if you are dealing with stress hormones it makes everything else worse. Do yoga, meditate or take whatever joys and nourish that part of your life. If we can strengthen our immune system we can fight off COVID and any other infection.
Know your family history. As we get older our immune system gets senescence. So depending on your genetics, your immunity either gets weaker or stays healthy depending on both your personal DNA and how you take care of your immunity. Of course, staying healthy in other areas is vital since nothing stresses your immunity like co-morbidities.
These are all things your immune system and your body has to protect against, so control the things you can, like diet and lifestyle choices, Dr. Bob advises. Help take care of your immune system and it will help take care of you back.
Bottom Line: Take a Multivitamin to Help you FIght COVID If You Get It
An immune specialist says that in order to strengthen your immunity against COVID and other viruses, take a multivitamin. It’s the easiest way to make sure you are getting all the nutrients such as Vitamins C, D, A, and E plus zinc and iron, right now.