Keep Your Immune System Strong: Southeast Georgia Health System Dietitian Gives Advice on Eating Well During a Pandemic

Sam Czarnota, Dietary Director, Food & Nutrition, Southeast Georgia Health System.July 28, 2020 – By now, chances are that you know the advice on protecting yourself and others from coronavirus: social distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands. But here’s another bit of advice to think about, too: eat healthy foods.

“Eating a nutritious diet has always been one of the easiest ways to stay healthy,” says Sam Czarnota, MS, RD, LD, Dietary Director, Food & Nutrition, Southeast Georgia health System. “A healthy diet supports your immune system, and a strong immune system helps protect you from illness. While no one food or diet can prevent illness, eating healthy can help your body prevent, fight and recover from infections, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

What does healthy eating look like?

Of course, it’s best to keep your immune system healthy all the time, not just during a global pandemic. That means focusing on a well-balanced diet filled with nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains year-round.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, these nutrients can help strengthen your immune system:

  • Probiotics. These good bacteria can be found in cultured dairy products like yogurt.
  • Protein. This may be especially helpful in healing and recovery. You can find this in plant and animal products, such as milk, eggs, beef, chicken, fish, nuts, beans and seeds.
  • Vitamin A. This helps regulate the immune system and protect against infections. Look for it in sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, eggs, or milk and cereal fortified with vitamin A.
  • Vitamin C. Look for this in citrus fruits. It helps the immune system by increasing the amount of antibodies in your system.
  • Vitamin D. Find it in fatty fish and eggs, as well as drinks fortified with vitamin D.
  • Vitamin E. This works as an antioxidant. Antioxidants decrease inflammation. Find vitamin E in fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils and peanut butter.
  • Zinc. This may help wounds heal. You can find it in wheat germ, beans and tofu. But zinc is best absorbed from animal sources like beef and fish.

The best way to get the nutrients your immune system needs is to include a wide variety of healthy foods in your diet. That’s usually a better option than a supplement. Overloading on specific nutrients won’t give your immune system a super boost. And taking too much of some of them can actually do more harm than good.

Take an all-around approach.

Eating nutritious foods is just one way to strengthen your immune system. Other good habits include:

  • Getting a good amount of sleep each night.
  • Being active every day.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Coping with stress and anxiety in healthy ways, like deep breathing or exercise.

And of course, a healthy diet isn’t a replacement for other steps to protect yourself from COVID-19. It’s still essential to:

  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others in public.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Keep away from sick people.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean and disinfect shared surfaces daily.
  • Wear a cloth face mask in public.

For more information on COVID-19 and how to protect yourself and your loved ones, visit For individuals experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, including but not limited to unexplained cough, fever, and shortness of breath, call the Health System’s screening hotline: 912-466-7222.