Illustration: Furze Chan

How to Eat in the New Normal

How to Strengthen Your Immune System Through Diet

You’re not eating for this pandemic—you’re eating for the next one

Dana G Smith
Elemental
Published in
6 min readApr 30, 2020

This story is part of How to Eat in the New Normal, a weeklong series about how the Covid-19 pandemic is changing the way we eat, with expert advice for making food choices that help you stay healthy and happy

Let’s get something out of the way: It’s impossible to immediately boost your immune system. Vitamin C supplements, turmeric juices, green smoothies — none of them will give you virus-fighting superpowers.

That doesn’t mean vitamins and minerals aren’t critically important for immune health, but the benefits take time to build up. The salad you eat today is a long-term investment, not a quick fix or an insurance policy against an immediate threat.

“There are a lot of factors that go into enhancing the immune system. It does not happen overnight, and it’s not all about diet,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, lead dietitian and manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at the Cleveland Clinic. “Starting today is a good first step, but the key is keeping up these better habits.”

Vitamins and minerals are essential for cellular health in every organ system in the body. For immune cells, vitamins C, D, and E, and zinc appear to be particularly important. These nutrients “are needed for the immune system to maintain its normal function and have the ability to produce the arsenal they need to combat pathogens when they face them,” says Simin Nikbin Meydani, PhD, professor of nutritional immunology at Tufts University. “When you have deficiency of these nutrients, the cells of the immune system cannot function normally and their ability to fight pathogens will be impaired.”

Below is a quick rundown of how each of these nutrients benefits the immune system and how to work them into your diet. But first, an important caveat: None of these vitamins and minerals have been tested on the body’s ability to fight off the novel coronavirus. There is no evidence that vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, or any other nutrient is an effective prevention method or treatment for Covid-19. Still, it’s a good time to prioritize taking care of your body and…

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Dana G Smith
Elemental

Health and science writer • PhD in 🧠 • Words in Scientific American, STAT, The Atlantic, The Guardian • Award-winning Covid-19 coverage for Elemental