Once upon a time an apple a day might have been sufficient to keep the doctor away. These days we’re more aware of the benefits of eating a varied, healthy diet to keep our bodies strong, and an apple alone is unlikely to cut it.
Despite the fact that we know balance is necessary, certain foods still go through fads and enjoy sell-out runs as immune boosters. Just try to find fresh garlic in the supermarkets these days, or kale – everyone’s new favourite superfood. Not only are they hard to come, they’re also expensive in relation to the actual nutritional value they offer.
Food can’t prevent coronavirus, but it can strengthen your immune system
While the World Health Organization has publicly dispelled the myth that eating garlic or any other specific food can prevent or cure COVID-19, there are always benefits to maintaining good health and a strong immune system.
Vitamins A through D, naturally found in food, and the “go-to supplements” we tend to reach for, are all great immune boosters, but health-heavyweights like zinc and selenium are often overlooked.
The benefits of zinc
Zinc in particular is essential to many aspects of good health and because the body does not naturally produce zinc, it can only be obtained through food or supplements.
You’ll find it in:
- Red meat
- Dark chocolate
- Seeds and nuts
- You will also find it listed on the back of your multivitamin supplements (but in a larger dose in pregnancy vitamin supplements as it is vital for generating cells).
Zinc is great for strengthening the body’s immune system, but it also promotes healthy growth and brain development, helps fight infection, reduces fatigue and mood swings. It’s important for taste and smell, the renewal of skin cells and for keeping hair and nails healthy.
According to the International Zinc Association (IZA), zinc is a natural part of our environment and is required by all living things for survival. In fact, Simon Norton of the IZA says that zinc is essential for human health. He explains that zinc is in our organs, tissues, bones, fluids, and cells.
“All living things – including people, animals and plants – require zinc to function properly. Yet, over 1.2 billion people are not getting enough of this essential nutrient from their diets. This is a huge concern, especially in developing countries and even more so now with the threat of COVID-19 and the stress it places on the immune system,” says Simon.
The benefits of selenium
Similarly, selenium is an essential mineral that must be obtained through diet and plays an important role in supporting various body processes including metabolism, thyroid function and helping defend the body against chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
Selenium is only needed in small amounts and can be found in foods including:
- Chicken breasts
- Sunflower seeds
Ultimately, it’s the immune system that benefits most from a selenium supplement thanks to its antioxidant properties that help to lower oxidative stress, which in turn reduces inflammation and promotes immunity.
Supplementing with zinc and selenium does not eliminate the need for a healthy, balanced diet (don’t give up that apple a day!) but it does offer an immunity boost so that your body is in a better position to fight off infections that may come its way this winter.
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