Cover Dietitian Sally Shi-Po Poon suggests the following nutrients and foods to help you naturally boost your immune system (Photo: unsplash.com)

One of the best ways to stay healthy is by maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet. We spoke to a registered dietitian to find out what nutrients and foods that can strengthen your immune system and help fend off bacteria and viruses

It’s never been more important to protect your immune system during flu season and Covid-19. While maintaining social distancing and personal hygiene practices such as wearing masks and frequent hand-washing continue to remain paramount to keep ourselves safe these challenging times, one should never overlook the most basic fundamentals to healthy living—think adequate sleep, regular exercise, effective stress management, and of course, balanced diet

Getting the right vitamins and nutrients will not help you stay fit, but also help boost your immune system and fight against viruses and infections. Below, registered dietitian Sally Shi-Po Poon lists out five of the most powerful nutrients for supporting the immune system and explains how can we obtain them from food.  

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Vitamin A

Vitamin A is essential for good vision and a strong immune system, which also helps the lungs and other organs function properly. Food sources of vitamin A include liver, spinach, sweet potato, squash, carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos. Known as a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin A is better absorbed when you consume it with healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds. 

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Vitamin C

When you think of immune system boosting nutrients, the first thing that springs to mind is probably vitamin C. Vitamin C is a versatile nutrient that plays an important role in a wide range of body systems and biological processes—from supporting your adrenals when you’re under stress, to supporting immune system health. Vitamin C does not reduce the risk of getting a cold, but for people who intake it regularly, they are likely to have shorter colds and milder symptoms. Five varied servings of fruits and vegetables a day will provide you with enough amount of vitamin C. Food sources include guava, kiwifruits, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes. 

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Vitamin D

Vitamin D is necessary for strong bones and immune health. When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it produces vitamin D from cholesterol. Food sources of vitamin D are limited—salmon, tuna, trout, and mackerel are among the best sources. Fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and plant-based milk beverages, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and mushrooms will also help you to meet your daily dose of vitamin D.

Generally speaking, the recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 10 to 20 micrograms (mcg); 400 to 800 international units (IU).

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Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for the production of new immune system cells, which also works as an antioxidant, helps increases metabolism and even speeds the healing process of wounds. It's important to note that individuals with low zinc levels, especially older people, are at higher risk of developing pneumonia. Top food sources of zinc include oysters, crab, lobster, beef, pork, chicken, baked beans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, yoghurt, and cheese. 

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Iron

Iron plays a part in many of the immune system processes, including transporting oxygen to all cells in the body and boosting your energy levels. A lack of iron in the blood will lead to Iron deficiency anaemia, which can weaken the immune system, increasing your vulnerability to infection. To get a sufficient amount of iron, consume a variety of foods including red meat, seafood, poultry, iron-fortified breakfast cereals, lentils and legumes, spinach, nuts and raisins. Iron from plant-based sources is better absorbed when eaten with foods that contain vitamin C, such as oranges, kiwifruit, and tomatoes. 

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