Extension and Ag Research News


Prairie Fare: Let’s Boost Our Immune Systems With a Healthful Diet

As the cold and flu season approaches and the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we can take steps to strengthen our immune system.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension

I was out of town for a couple of days, taking care to follow all the health precautions in place.

Wearing masks was required in every retail store and restaurant. Arrows directed us where to walk, and “X” marked the spots for social distancing when paying for our items.

I heard a loud sneeze at a restaurant. It sounded juicy.

I nearly ran out of the restaurant, but I wasn’t sure of the location of the “droplet shower.”

I stayed in my spot. However, I interrupted my menu reading and put my mask back on before I looked around.

According to some research, respiratory droplets from sneezes might travel 18 feet or more.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be alarmed, but we are at a challenging point in history. Our actions are safe-guarding our health, along with that of our family and friends, and everyone around us.

I spotted the “sneezer.” He was a host. He was wearing a mask as he brought people to their table.

I was hoping he just had inhaled some pepper or had seasonal allergies.

We know people can spread COVID-19. Can COVID-19 be spread by food? I have good news.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.”

Restaurants are following cleaning and sanitizing recommendations, so I felt safe sitting in our socially distanced booth.

Ordinarily, our immune system protects us from viruses, bacteria and other “germs.” Our immune system acts similarly to the old video arcade “Pac Man” game, gobbling anything in its path around a maze.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is a “novel” (new) virus. Our body does not have the defenses in place without a vaccination.

As the cold and flu season approaches and the pandemic continues, we can take steps to strengthen our immune system.

The immune system is highly complex. It includes specialized cells known as white blood cells, which prevent or limit infection in our bodies. Immune cells are made in the bone marrow, and the thymus organ in the upper chest helps immune cells mature.

Lymph nodes store white blood cells and release them in the bloodstream, where they can trap infectious germs. The spleen, an organ behind the stomach, also plays a role in immunity.

Once your body fights off a germ, your immune system remembers it so the next time the same germ enters your body, your immune system can resist it.

Without a vaccine for COVID-19, can we do anything lifestyle-wise? Follow your health-care provider’s recommendations and consider these tips.

Eat a healthful diet. Be sure to aim for variety in your daily diet. See https://www.choosemyplate.gov for details about building a healthful diet.

Most people shortchange themselves on the recommendation for fruits and vegetables, which should make up half of our plate. Most adults need at least 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables are naturally rich in vitamins A and C, and a variety of natural antioxidants.

For example, antioxidants include beta-carotene (in deep orange and gold vegetables), lutein in green leafy vegetables (such as kale and spinach) and lycopene (in tomatoes and watermelon).

Vitamin D also helps promote a healthy immune system, so be sure you are having milk and other vitamin D-fortified foods and beverages, and oily fish such as tuna and salmon. A short stroll outside in the summer sun also helps your body make vitamin D.

Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity on most days to strengthen all of your body systems from your heart to your immune system.

Don’t forget to wash your hands with soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. If water is not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based sanitizer with 60% alcohol. Be sure to read the directions to see how much to use. Rub the sanitizer all over your hands and between your fingers until your hands are dry.

See https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/nourishyourbody for a variety of information on nutrition, exercise and the body systems, along with links to credible resources.

Here’s a recipe that features foods with immune-boosting effects, according to published research.

Honey has long been used in traditional medicine for its potential therapeutic effects, and scientists have studied the stimulating effect that yogurt with live and active cultures may have on strengthening our immune system. Cinnamon also has some immune-boosting effects, according to some researchers, and it also has been used in traditional herbal medicine.

Honey Yogurt Fruit Dip

1 c. nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 Tbsp. honey (or to taste)

Red and green apple slices (or fruit of choice)

Mix yogurt with vanilla and cinnamon. Add honey to taste until desired sweetness is obtained. Rinse and slice apples right before serving.

Makes four servings. Each serving of dip has 70 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 45 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson)

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Aug. 20, 2020

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu


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