In this series, our experts answer nutrition questions to help you nourish your best life at every age. To submit a question for consideration*, email us.
Question: This time of year, it seems that everyone around me is sick! What can I do to keep healthy? Will loading up on vitamin C tablets help?
Answer: In a typical year, more than 35 million Americans will come down with the flu. Combined with colds, other viruses and COVID-19, this fall could shape up to be a serious health challenge, so this is a great question.
You are on the right track — your vitamin and mineral levels play an important role in keeping the immune system strong so that it can fight off foreign invaders, including cold and flu viruses. Good nutrition plays a vital role by providing key nutrients for immune health support.
That’s why it’s essential right now to adopt a two-part wellness strategy that can help serve as a strong line of defense for you and your family:
1) Practice CDC-recommended illness prevention safeguards, such as safe social distancing, hand washing, mask usage and early flu vaccination.
2) Stay healthy this season by adopting an immune-friendly diet.
When it comes to nutrition, it's always best to take a "food first" approach and focus on foods that support the immune system. Whole foods not only contain the vitamins and minerals that we need, they contain those nutrients in natural, highly bioavailable forms — meaning they can be used more easily by the body.
Whole foods also contain them in the right amounts. After all, with vitamins (including vitamin C), more is not always better. Each day, your body can only take in and use certain amounts of vitamins and minerals. Take in more than you need with "mega-dose" tablets advertised to increase immunity, and you can end up passing a lot of it out through your urine! What's more, excess levels of other vitamins, called "fat-soluble" vitamins, aren't excreted in your urine and can build up in the body. So, over time, taking extra-high doses could become problematic. That's certainly not what you're going for!
Immunity Supporting Foods
OK, so if you're looking to add foods that support the immune system to your diet, which ones do you need? Well, the most important vitamins and minerals for boosting your immunity — and keeping that pesky cold at bay — include vitamins A, C and E, as well as zinc.
So this cold and flu season, follow a balanced diet and fill each plate with produce, lean meats, dairy and healthy fats. That's how to support immune system health most effectively. Nature provides!
The expert: Abby Sauer, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian specializing in adult nutrition and wellness at Abbott.
*Note: This column is for general educational and informational purposes only. The information and the opinions of the author expressed do not constitute medical advice. Speak to your medical professional if you need personal health advice. Submit your nutrition question for consideration using the subject line "Ask the Expert." We will review submissions for future columns, but please note that not every question will be answered.
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Diabetes Management After a COVID-19 Diagnosis
COVID-19 is uncharted territory for all of us. Even frontline healthcare workers are learning about the disease day by day as they care for others. Although much remains unknown about the novel coronavirus, we do know that it poses a higher risk of complications for those who have diabetes or another underlying health condition. Targeted nutrition may be able to help. Diabetes management and nutritional therapy can help you achieve good glycemic control, a key component to better overall health and improved outcomes after a COVID-19 diagnosis. But first, it's important to understand how the two conditions intersect. How Does COVID-19 Impact People With Diabetes? We know that hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, is associated with reduced immunity and poorer COVID-19 outcomes. For people with diabetes who are also in hospital, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends a target glucose range of 140–180 mg/dL for most patients. For those not in hospital, the ADA recommends a target A1c of 7%. Research into the relationship between diabetes and COVID-19 is ongoing, but data strongly suggests that glucose control is important following COVID-19 infection. CDC information suggests that about 28% of people in the US who are hospitalized with COVID-19 also have diabetes. The presence of hyperglycemia at admission in COVID-19 patients, not just those with diabetes, may be an indicator or worse outcomes. Practical recommendations for glucose control in COVID-19 suggest an A1c target of 7% or less. Poorly controlled diabetes (A1c > 7%) was associated with a greater risk of death from COVID-19. As we continue to learn more about transmission and prevention of COVID-19, managing blood sugar is key to better health outcomes, particularly for people with diabetes. Targeted nutrition is one way to help support those efforts. Why Is Nutrition Vital in Diabetes Management and COVID-19 Recovery? Regular diabetes management, as recommended by the ADA, includes medical nutritional therapy, which can help you achieve good glycemic control and includes personally optimizing carbohydrate intake and improving diet quality. Balanced nutrition will help manage blood sugar levels and keep blood sugar within normal ranges as well as provide the daily required nutrients, especially when you're ill. Eating smaller, regular meals and focusing on a balance of macro and micronutrients can help you manage your glucose both during times of illness and every single day. If you need additional nutritional support, consider adding a diabetes-specific formula (DSF) to your eating plan. Diabetes specific formulas, like Glucerna can help you manage your blood sugar. They also provide several key nutrients and health benefits, including: "Slow-release carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, which can help minimize the effect on blood sugar levels." "Monounsaturated fatty acids, which are associated with several health benefits." "Prebiotics and dietary fiber, which promote gastrointestinal health." "High-quality protein and other nutrients for immune system support, including antioxidants (selenium and vitamins C and E), vitamin D, vitamin A and zinc." The Look AHEAD study, has shown that meal replacements, including diabetes-specific formula, have improved outcomes versus standard lifestyle interventions. The enhanced weight loss1 was associated with improved glycemic outcomes2, blood pressure3 and reduced healthcare costs over 10 years4. Although there are still many unknowns surrounding COVID-19, one thing is certain: For people with diabetes, good nutrition is a key component of managing blood sugar following any diagnosis. Keeping your glucose in check is important for people with diabetes every day; incorporating DSFs to fill any nutrition gaps, or replace poor meal or snack choices, may help improve your overall health. 1 Look AHEAD Research Group, et al. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(6):1374–1383 2 Look AHEAD Research Group, et al. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(17):1566–1575 3 Wing RR, et al. Diabetes Care 2016;39(8):1345-55 4 Diabetes Care. 2014 Sep; 37(9): 2548–2556. doi: 10.2337/dc14-0093
How Healthcare Workers Can Help Their Immune System with Nutrition and Hydration
As the first line of defense against the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare staffers are putting in long hours to give people the medical attention they need. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), including face shields or goggles, face masks, gowns and gloves, throughout their shifts helps them remain safe while tending to others. However, protective gear stays on for long stretches of time, which can make it difficult for essential workers to get enough food and water to safeguard their own health. So, when the action never seems to stop, how do doctors, nurses and other healthcare employees meet their nutrition and hydration needs? Here are the measures these workers are taking to stay healthy and strong, as well as how you can work these nutrition best practices into your daily routine.