Casseroles and carbs might be comforting, but produce is key to boosting your immune system.

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Now is a good time to love—and eat—fruits and vegetables more than you ever have before. Amid concerns about the coronavirus, we all need to pay attention to our immune and stress-related health, which means making sure we're eating enough nutrient-rich foods. Fruits and vegetables are up to the task and remain safe to eat. According to the FDA, the virus that causes COVID-19 is not a foodborne gastrointestinal virus that makes people sick through contaminated food. It notes that while the risk is low, "It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. That's why it's critical to follow the four key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill."

cutting board with citrus ginger cucumber beet oranges
Credit: Kate Mathis

Paying attention to nutritional needs helps bolster your immune system, putting your body in the best position to stay healthy. "Essentially, nutrition is medicine," says Jeannie Buckman, a national board certified health and wellness coach. "Making sure we get enough healthy fats, protein, and fruits and vegetables are all important for overall health. Keeping your immune system healthy can help ward off illnesses and infections."

Fruits and Vegetables Are Stars

Reminding yourself that fruits and vegetables are good for both immediate and long-term health can help insure you incorporate them daily. "Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers, according to the CDC. "In addition, fruits and vegetables are good sources of many important nutrients, including potassium, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and numerous phytochemicals," a recent report reads. Buckman agrees, adding, "Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to many health issues such as low energy, low immune system, not sleeping well, weight gain, foggy brain and mood. Those nutrients are needed for your body to function optimally. Fruits and vegetables help your brain produce more of a hormone called serotonin, which helps to lower stress and blood pressure."

Many Americans generally consume less than ideal amounts of certain nutrients needed for a healthy diet and now, when most people are reducing the number of trips they make to the grocery store as part of social distancing and when supermarkets are trying to keep up with demand and shelves can be empty, eating more produce might be the last thing on many people's mind. Still, it's important to balance all those store cupboard meals, carbs, and comfort casseroles with fruit and vegetable intake.

What to Eat

"The amount of fruit and vegetables someone needs can range between two and five cups daily, depending on a person's age, gender, and physical activity level," says Buckman. "And even though fruits are healthy, they do contain sugar (natural), so aim to consume more vegetables."

Fresh, Frozen, Canned

Locally grown farm-fresh fruits and vegetables are ideal since they're consumed closer to peak ripeness, but at this time of year, before the spring growing season begins, they are in short supply in most areas. Frozen fruits and vegetables are typically better than produce that has been shipped over long distances because they are snap frozen right after they’re picked, preserving the nutrients. "When buying frozen, make sure the fruits and vegetables are listed as the only ingredient. You don't want salt or sugar," Buckman says. She doesn't recommend canned fruits or vegetables unless no fresh or frozen is available and then only no sugar or salt added options.

Immune Boosters

Buckman recommends garlic, citrus, spinach, broccoli, walnuts, and almonds as top immune-boosting foods to incorporate in your daily diet. She also emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated. The Institute of Medicine National Academy of Medicine recommends 13 cups (eight ounces = one cup) for men and nine cups for women daily. Lemon water is fine, but leave out the sugar, she says. Juices typically have too much sugar.

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