Eating Habits That Weaken Your Immune System
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health's contributing nutrition editor says keeping your immune system strong is one of the most important and impactful things you can do right now, as the coronavirus pandemic continues. But bolstering immunity is a two-sided coin: it's about choosing foods that help support immune function, while sidestepping behaviors that can weaken immunity. Here are six habits to be mindful of as you work on boosting your body's defenses.
Drinking too much alcohol
A glass of wine here and there can be a healthy way to get through this crisis. But excessive alcohol consumption, even short-term, can alter your immune system in ways that are particularly important right now. The effect includes an increased susceptibility to pneumonia, and a greater likelihood of developing acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS)-factors that could potentially impact COVID-19 outcomes.
Going overboard with salt
You may associate excess sodium with problems like fluid retention and high blood pressure. But a new study from the University Hospital of Bonn conducted in both humans and mice concludes that too much salt may lead to immune deficiencies. Researchers found that when the kidneys excrete excess sodium, a domino effect occurs that reduces the body's ability to fight bacterial infections.
Consuming excess sugar
Cutting back on excess added sugar is a smart idea for a number of reasons, including good mental health. It's also beneficial for immune support. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that after an overnight fast, humans fed 100 grams of sugar experienced a reduction in the ability of immune cells to engulf bacteria. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar-the kind added to foods by you or a manufacturer-to no more than six teaspoons worth per day for women, and nine for men.
Overdoing caffeine intake
Coffee and tea are health-protective, due to their high levels of antioxidants linked to anti-inflammation. However, too much caffeine can interfere with sleep, and that result can increase inflammation and compromise immunity. To best support immune function, ditch caffeinated drinks with no nutrients made with sugar or artificial sweeteners, like soda and energy drinks. When you do enjoy coffee and tea, be sure to cut off your caffeine intake at least six hours before bedtime to prevent sleep interference.
Skimping on fiber
Fiber supports good digestive health and helps to shift the makeup of gut bacteria in ways that enhance both immunity and mood. Research shows that a higher intake of dietary fiber and prebiotics supports healthier immune function, including protection against viruses. Adequate fiber also promotes more and better sleep. Yet just 5% of Americans consume the recommended daily goal of at least 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams for men.
Not eating enough green veggies
Aiming for seven cups of a wide array of produce daily provides numerous health benefits, but green veggies may be particularly helpful for immunity. These plants provide key nutrients known to help immune function, including vitamins A and C, plus folate. Greens also offer bioactive compounds that release a chemical signal that optimizes immunity in the gut, the location of 70-80% of immune cells.