Welcome to the new reality where the words, coronavirus and COVID-19 are spoken and heard in practically every communication we have with one another.

In my work as both a registered dietitian and director of public health at the Lower Sioux Health Care Center my days have a completely new meaning.

We all have so many concerns and questions, while there are health recommendations that change weekly based on new evidence of this virus and its effects on us as humans.

During this public health emergency, the most common questions I receive are: Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves and our family, and are there ways you can improve your body’s ability to fight this virus?

My response is always to look for the best, evidenced based, information which can be found on the CDC Web site. We, as health professionals, utilize the CDC’s information for all of our recommendations, as well as tips for how to protect yourself and your loved ones from contracting COVID-19 during this crisis.

There are lifestyle changes, including dietary changes, that can boost the immune system. For example, chronic stress can negatively alter immune system responses, making you more likely to get sick. Identify your personal stress reduction strategies and practice them regularly.

Sleep has a big influence on immune function, so it is essential to get plenty of sleep. Practice good sleep and maintain consistent sleep hours – turn off screens and ensure the room is cool, quiet and dark.

Moderate, regular physical activity helps to boost immune system function by raising levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, increasing circulation and decreasing stress hormones. Establish and follow an exercise program to not only help prevent respiratory infections but also to improve cognitive and physical resilience.

Research indicates brightly colored vegetables and fruits boost immunity better than most supplements. Include fermented vegetables or other probiotic-containing foods. More specifically, there are nutrients and food sources to support immune function.

Vitamin C supports the immune system by stimulating the formation of antibodies. Include more sources of this healthy vitamin by choosing citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, or red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice or foods fortified with vitamin C. 

Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protect against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy. Get this vitamin from foods, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs or foods labeled “vitamin A fortified,” such as milk or some cereals.

Vitamin E works as an antioxidant and may support immune function. Include vitamin E in your diet with fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts and peanut butter.

Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds and nuts.

Vitamin D, is one of the most important and powerful nutrients for supporting the immune system. Unfortunately, a high percentage of the population is deficient, so daily supplementation (ideally in the form of vitamin D3) offers the best protection. Food Sources include fatty fish like salmon, fortified foods, like milk, yogurt or orange juice. Now, more than ever it is important to incorporate these types of whole foods and healthy lifestyle practices into your daily life.

*This information is only intended to identify ways that may boost your immune system. It is not meant to recommend any treatments, nor have any of these methods been proven effective against coronavirus. Always consult your physician or healthcare provider prior to using any of these modalities.

– Stacy Hammer is a registered dietitian and serves as the director of community health for the Lower Sioux Health Care Center