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Can Healthy Eating Boost the Immune System?

May 06, 2020

by Carrie Swift, MS, RD, BC-ADM, CDCES

While there are no ‘superfoods’ that can prevent catching a virus; healthy eating helps shore up the immune system. Making unhealthy food choices, not coping well with stress, unchecked high blood glucose, and lack of physical activity can all contribute to a compromised immune system. Having to juggle all the requirements of diabetes self-management is never easy. Adding in uncertainty about health concerns and a global pandemic, makes self-care tasks seem even more daunting. But giving in to eating junk food and becoming a couch potato isn’t the answer. Focusing on self-care behaviors like healthy eating and staying active is even more important during stressful times.

Eating any one specific food, or a singular food group, isn’t what prevents illness. However, most Americans fall short on fruit and vegetable consumption. As many as 9 out of 10 adults fail to meet the federal guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake – 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. People with diabetes likely don’t eat more of these beneficial plant-based foods than people without diabetes. This is important when it comes to optimal health. An eating pattern that is rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, have a positive glycemic effect, reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent some types of cancer and promote weight loss. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are power players when it comes to the immune system.


People with diabetes may mistakenly believe they can’t eat fruit because it ‘spikes’ the blood glucose.


People with diabetes may mistakenly believe they can’t eat fruit because it ‘spikes’ the blood glucose. It’s true that fruit contains carbohydrate, but it should be included as part of a healthy diabetes meal plan. Whether fresh, frozen or canned – all fruits and vegetables can fit. Fresh produce is naturally low in sugar and sodium, but it’s something to watch out for when it is frozen or canned. Choosing varieties with no added sugar or salt is best. If the lower sugar or lower sodium options aren’t available, rinsing off the produce with water will reduce either the added sugars or added salt content.

Here are some tips and suggestions to share with the people with diabetes in your practice to increase fruit and vegetable intake, so that they may fortify their immune system.

Vegetables

  • Chop up vegetables to add to scrambled eggs – spinach, onion, tomato, green pepper etc.
  • Add a veggie puree to a soup or sauce to boost color and nutrients
  • Top sandwiches with extra vegetables – cucumbers, lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.
  • Include a handful of frozen vegetables in a low-calorie frozen entrée for a quick lunch
  • Use leftover cooked vegetables in a quick stir-fry with brown rice or other favorite grain
  • Make a quick, hearty soup using frozen vegetables, rinsed canned beans and low sodium broth

Fruits

  • Add a small handful of berries to oatmeal in the morning – if fresh aren’t available, use freeze-dried or frozen; with no sugar added
  • Serve a fruit salad for dessert
  • Choose a water-packed fruit cup for a snack – think peaches or unsweetened applesauce
  • Put banana slices in a peanut butter sandwich in place of jam or jelly
  • Combine fruit – canned or fresh – with sugar-free gelatin for a quick snack or dessert
  • Add color and flavor to your favorite salad with sliced strawberries or mandarin oranges

For more information on healthy self-care behaviors, visit DiabetesEducator.org/AADE7behaviors.

 


Carrie SwiftAbout the Author:

Carrie Swift, MS, RDN, BC-ADM, CDCES, FADCES received her bachelors and masters of science in human nutrition from Washington State University. Since 1990 she has been a certified diabetes care and education specialist, and became board certified in advanced diabetes management in 2003. Swift has served in many volunteer and professional roles in diabetes care and education, having previously served two terms on the ADCES Board of Directors. She currently serves as a certified diabetes care and education specialist and quality coordinator at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, WA.

 


ADCES Perspectives on Diabetes Care

The Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists Perspectives on Diabetes Care covers diabetes, prediabetes and other cardiometabolic conditions. Not all views expressed reflect the official position of the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists.

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HEALTHCARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your diabetes care and education specialist or healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. To find a diabetes care and education specialist near you, visit DiabetesEducator.org/Find.

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