Associate Professor of dietetics and nutrition shares which supplements and food groups can help keep you healthy
As we head into the holiday season and keep an eye on COVID-19 cases this upcoming winter, now is a great time to strengthen our immune systems to combat the virus.
According to Associate Professor of dietetics and nutrition Cristina Palacios, supplements and foods rich in certain vitamins and minerals are crucial.
“Those of us that have a better nutritional status can fight the disease better than others,” says Palacios, a faculty member at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work. “We constantly have pathogens, such as virus and bacteria, coming into our bodies. If our immune system is working really well, we don’t get infected.”
She adds, “In general, nutrition affects our entire body. All body processes require enzymes, and many vitamins and minerals help enzymes work better. There’s the saying, ‘We are what we eat.’ It’s true. If you want to be healthy, you have to consume certain nutrients.”
So, how do we keep our immune systems healthy during this time?
To shed light on the matter, Palacios recently hosted a free virtual webinar for the community. The webinar was part of an ongoing series organized by Palacios and a team of graduate students to share information with folks who are trying to keep their families healthy.
Earlier this year, Palacios collaborated with a team of international experts to develop a guide, which was published in the official journal of the Latin American Society of Nutrition (SLAN), to help frontline workers protect their health through supplements and food. During the webinar, Palacios shared some of those recommendations—which are applicable for adults in the general public, as cities continue to reopen.
Here are the top three supplements adults should consider taking.
1. Vitamin C. This vitamin has been hailed for years as a go-to source for aiding the immune system. Palacios said vitamin C is vital for the health of leukocytes, a type of white blood cells that help fight infections. It’s particularly important during a pandemic. She recommends adults take a supplement of 1000 mg twice every day.
She also recommended consuming foods rich in vitamin C. These foods include the classics of orange juice and oranges as well as other citric fruits and vegetables including grapefruit, strawberries, tomatoes and cranberries.
2. Vitamin D. Most often we get our vitamin D through the sun, but throughout this time, Palacios said, taking a supplement is a good idea. She added that studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D have been associated with a greater risk of developing respiratory conditions in adults and children.
In fact, studies have begun to show that people with vitamin D deficiencies are at a higher risk of getting infected by the COVID-19 virus. The time to act is now.
Palacios recommended adults take a supplement of vitamin D3 of 1000 International Units (IU) once or twice per day, consumed during meals.
Additionally, you can boost your intake of vitamin D by eating fish and other foods fortified with the vitamin.
For those who have a vitamin D deficiency, consult with your doctor or dietician for an accurate dosage of the supplement.
3. Zinc. Palacios said that zinc is crucial for normal development and functioning of cells mediating part of the immune system. She added that studies have shown that increased concentrations of zinc can inhibit the replication of viruses like poliovirus and SARS-coronavirus.
She recommended adults take a zinc supplement of 40 mg or less once a day.
Nutrients through food
Palacios recommended adults work several other nutrients into their diet through foods. While the following nutrients have not been proved to help in the fight against COVID-19, they do boost the immune system in general, so consuming them through foods is the way to go.
Vitamin A. Palacios recommended consuming the vitamin through foods including milk, dairy products, and eggs, as well as orange and yellow fruits.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin). This vitamin helps the immune system by reducing inflammation and damage to the lungs, said Palacios. Foods high in Vitamin B3 include chicken, meats, fish, grains, beans and legumes, and nuts.
Vitamin B9 (folate and folic acid) – studies have shown this vitamin can prevent respiratory infections in children, Palacios said. You can consume foods with folate in leafy greens like spinach and folic acid in fortified foods including pasta and bread.
Probiotics – Palacios added that certain strains of probiotics in specific situations can prevent upper respiratory tract infections. You can find probiotics in yogurt and fermented milk.
The next webinar by Palacios’ team will be hosted at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 2. It will focus on how to whip up easy plant-based meals for the family.
Dr. Cristina Palacios is an associate professor in the Department of Dietetics & Nutrition. Dr. Palacios has conducted several trials in adolescents and adults to determine the effects of dietary supplements and functional foods on bone and body composition. She has developed and validated food frequency questionnaires to evaluate intake and tested interventions using technology for obesity prevention. Her research is currently focused on studying the role of diet and physical activity on obesity and weight gain in infants, children, adolescents, and pregnant women. She has been funded by NIH, USDA, RCMI and RTRN, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She is an active member of the American Society of Nutrition and the Latin-American Nutrition Society (SLAN). In addition, she is a consultant for the World Health Organization in Vitamin D and for the Pan-American Health Organization in infant nutrition.