By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
Being in lockdown has led to reduced time outdoors, less exercise, and more difficulty in purchasing foods—all of which directly affect your health and fitness levels. This also impacts your ability to take in essential vitamins, which usually come from a wide-ranging and balanced diet. Knowing which vitamins or supplements are needed to boost the immune system is vital to developing the right eating habits. With many other current worries when heading to the grocery store, a shopping list that includes immunity booster vitamins will result in a more productive trip.
In this article, I focus on vitamins C, B6, and E and work through how they can lead to a healthier body, why they’re needed for your immune system, and which foods you should eat to ensure you’re benefiting from their function.
Our bodies need small amounts of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Too much, and there are risks attached to overuse. Too little, and it may be necessary to up your intake. Most people take enough vitamins and minerals from their food, but some need to take supplements to ensure they’re providing their body with sufficient levels.
The best and easiest way of boosting your intake is through foods that are high in each of the required vitamins. Keeping this in mind when at the grocery store or when preparing meals means that you’re staying aware of what your body needs and how you can best supply it with healthy food. This will not only sustain your immune system but will set you up for a healthier mindset when choosing food items.
There are many reasons why people aren’t able to ingest those much-needed vitamins from food. Vegetarians, for example, often experience low iron levels which most meat eaters don’t have to worry about. You can easily obtain enough iron from red meat (although there are claims that red meat is bad for you). So, seek out alternative foods. These often include legumes, spinach, nuts, and pulses, along with some favored vegetarian recipes. Often, even alternatives don’t deliver enough of a particular vitamin and many people find it necessary to include further supplements to their diet.
Especially during the COVID-19 lockdown, which has caused food shortages and decreases in certain food groups, not all immune-boosting food items are accessible. If this extends over a long period of time, you may decide that supplements are necessary to maintain a healthy body. However, supplements should not be used as a substitute for a balanced diet.
Most supplements can be bought at the grocery store, drug store, or online. Your doctor will be able to advise you as to which supplements you need. This is usually determined by a blood test or by talking through your current diet. It’s important to note that taking an incorrect dose can lead to serious medical issues, so you should always consult with a doctor before adding supplements to your diet.
Where possible, food is one of the best sources of natural vitamins, and even a few small additions of certain items can have a big impact.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, plays an important role in the production of collagen which contributes to healthy cells, bones, and cartilage. Our bodies are not able to produce or store it, so daily intake of vitamin C is needed for the healthy function of the immune system. Vitamin C is an essential vitamin. Without it, symptoms can include low energy levels, gum disease, anemia, and dry, damaged skin. In severe cases of vitamin C deficiency, scurvy can occur.
Most people recognize oranges as being high in vitamin C, and whilst oranges are one main source, many fruits and vegetables are excellent sources, giving you wide-ranging and healthy options. The best options for fruits include guava (raw), strawberries, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, and mango. Similarly, great options for vegetables include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green and red peppers, and cabbage.
Other foods such as spinach, onion, potato (sweet and normal), and tomatoes are all high in vitamin C and make good additions to salads or main meals. If you’re looking for a quick boost of vitamin C, try blending fruits to make a smoothie or prepare cuts of fruit the night before so you can snack on the go.
Vitamin B6 is part of a wider vitamin B group of essential nutrients. It contributes to enzyme reactions affecting the metabolism and also helps your blood carry oxygen around the body (it’s use is in the production of hemoglobin). A lack of vitamin B6 can lead to feeling weak and tired, a low mood, loss of appetite, and skin complaints. Like vitamin C, vitamin B6 is not produced or stored by the body, so daily intake is needed.
Meat, fish, and potatoes are rich sources of vitamin B6 and are an excellent starting point for daily inclusion to your diet. Of the meat and fish, chicken, turkey, pork, tuna, and salmon are thought to have the highest levels of vitamin B6. However, there are lots of equally excellent food sources to try: whole grain bread, eggs, whole grain cereals, and milk.
For alternatives (and to give your meal recipes a real workout), try adding avocado, chickpeas, ricotta cheese, or dried fruit.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also an antioxidant and key player in warding off infection, keeping skin and eyes healthy, and protecting cells from damage. A deficiency in vitamin E can cause muscle weakness, impaired reflexes, and vision problems, so it’s advisable to choose foods that can aid vitamin E function.
Higher levels of vitamin E are found in vegetable oils (sunflower, rice bran, soybean), nuts and seeds (particularly sunflower seeds, almonds, and peanuts), and leafy greens (such as spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens).
Alternatively, some fish products such as salmon and cod are a good source of the nutrient. Like vitamin C, fruits and vegetables are always a solid choice and contain a high percent of your required daily intake.
Reach for kiwifruit, blackberries, dried cranberries, raspberries, raw red pepper, broccoli, asparagus, and butternut squash for high levels of the vitamin.
Now, more than ever, it is so important to stay healthy. Knowing which foods contain essential nutrients, and adding them to your diet is one easy way to contribute to your wellbeing.