Vitamin D Is Key to a Healthy Immune System, and These 7 Foods Have It in Spades
Trying to stay healthy during cold and flu season has perhaps never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic. From frantically washing hands to continuing to have Zoom happy hours, everyone's doing what they can to keep the "bugs" away.
One vitamin that has become a shining star in the wellness world is vitamin D. While this nutrient may be best known for its role in building strong bones, it also supports many functions in the body, including the immune system. Some researchers have gone so far as to suggest that those who have lower levels of circulating vitamin D in their body have an increased risk of developing COVID-19. In fact, the relative risk of testing positive for COVID-19 appears to be nearly two times greater for those who are vitamin D deficient, compared with people with normal vitamin D levels.
Even so, vitamin D also plays an important role in more generally supporting a healthy immune system. It's no wonder then that people are making efforts to get their daily dose of the sunshine vitamin. While there are many ways to help your body meet its vitamin D needs — including direct sun exposure and supplements — there are some foods that naturally contain this important nutrient and can be simple additions to an overall healthy diet. Here are seven to add to your grocery list.
Adults require about 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D each day, according to the Institute of Medicine. One serving of farmed salmon contains nearly a third of your daily vitamin D needs. Not only does salmon supply your body with vitamin D, but it's also loaded with immune-supporting omega-3 fatty acids. Specifically, choosing Chilean farmed salmon gives you more omega-3s compared to other types of fish, with no mercury or antibiotics.
All mushrooms contain some vitamin D, but some varieties boast even more due to UV light or sunlight exposure. Mushroom farmers literally expose mushrooms to UV light to increase their vitamin D content!
A simple and delicious way to add vitamin D to your diet is blending finely chopped mushrooms with ground meat in dishes such as burgers, tacos, or bolognese. Swapping just 25 percent of the meat for mushrooms will reduce your calorie and fat intake, while adding nutrients like vitamin D, potassium, B vitamins, and antioxidants.
You may want to skip the egg-white-only omelet and go for the whole egg if you're trying to get in your daily dose of vitamin D. The yolk is a nutrition powerhouse, containing this important nutrient, along with other key vitamins and minerals for immune support, like selenium. Eggs are one of the only foods that naturally has vitamin D. Whether you eat them hard-boiled, scrambled, or fried, don't skip that yolk!
Fortified Orange Juice
If you're keeping fortified orange juice on hand, know that one 8-ounce glass gives your body a whopping 15 percent of the daily value of vitamin D, along with 100 percent of your daily vitamin C. What's more, 100 percent orange juice contains a natural plant chemical, or flavonoid, that may offer health benefits to humans. In fact, data suggests that among those who consumed flavonoids, there was a 33 percent decrease in upper respiratory tract infections, compared with those who did not consume flavonoids.
While milk doesn't naturally contain vitamin D, it is almost always fortified with this nutrient — a practice that dates back to the 1900s, when the nutrient was added to combat an increase in rickets cases. Enjoying a glass of milk is a simple way to give your body a boost of vitamin D, regardless of whether you're choosing skim, whole, or anything in between.
Hamburger lovers, rejoice! Beef is a natural source of vitamin D, as well as other immune-supporting nutrients like zinc. In fact, lower levels of zinc were associated with greater inflammation and poorer outcomes in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, compared with more healthful levels, according to a recent study. Enjoying lean beef in moderation can be a part of a healthy diet, especially in the colder months when sun exposure is limited, and thus our ability to make our own vitamin D is hindered.