Next time you’re standing in a socially distant line at the grocery store, pay special attention to the magazine rack. Scan the headlines. A good portion may extol the benefits of an immune-boosting diet.

“COVID-19 has caused an uptick in the popularity of an immune-boosting diet since a healthy immune system can help fight viruses and infections,” says Carolyn McAdams, RD, Clinical Nutrition Manager at Christian Health Care Center (CHCC).

The immune system is a complex network of organs, cells, tissues, and proteins that guards against or limits viruses, bacteria, and foreign bodies which cause infection or disease. When the system comes encounters a pathogen, an immune response is triggered and antibodies are released. Antibodies attach to antigens on the pathogens and kill them. The antibodies keep a record of every germ they have defeated so they can recognize and eliminate it quickly if it ever invades the body again.

“Intestinal microbiota, or gut flora, and the gut barrier determine gut health. Inside the gut are about 100 trillion live microorganisms that promote normal gastrointestinal function, protect the body from infection, and regulate metabolism and the mucosal immune system. In fact, they comprise more than 75 percent of the immune system,” Ms. McAdams says.

Incorporating specific foods into your diet may strengthen this immune response. For optimal function, the immune system needs an array of vitamins, minerals, and certain bioactive compounds – types of chemicals found in small amounts in plants and certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, oils, and whole grains. Omega 3 fatty acids and probiotics are examples of bioactive compounds.

“The Mediterranean diet supports a healthy immune system with its emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, nuts, and olive oil,” Ms. McAdams says. “The diet provides large amounts of vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy fats from fish oil.”

Throughout CHCC’s senior-life, mental-health, and short-term rehab programs, services, and residences, immune-boosting foods make frequent appearances on menus. Broccoli, sweet potatoes, fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt, and fish are popular – and beneficial – options.

“As we age, immunity declines as the body becomes less efficient at absorbing vitamins and minerals that fight infection and disease. That’s one of the reasons why a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet is very important for older adults,” Ms. McAdams says. “Additionally, many seniors have chronic low-level inflammation and/or underlying health conditions, such as cardiac disease or diabetes, which also weaken the immune system.”

Creating an optimum diet for each resident and patient at CHCC begins with a dietary assessment upon admission. Registered dietitians gather and analyze information about medical diagnosis, weight history, food allergies, medications, dental status, and food preferences. The most advantageous diet can then be developed. Thereafter, dietary status is assessed regularly and altered, as necessary.

“Good nutrition,” Ms. McAdams says, “plays a significant role in health, healing, and wellness.”

The health-care experts at Christian Health Care Center can share their expertise through our virtual Speakers Bureau. Popular topics include nutrition, exercise, retirement living options, caregiving, and tips for coping with COVID-19. Contact Karen Hockstein at (201) 848-4463 or khockstein@chccnj.org if your community group, school, church, or company is interested in an engaging, enlightening, and educational virtual presentation!