Nutrients that support the immune system are found in well-known, everyday foods that restaurants may already have in their pantries. Photo courtesy of Roti Modern Mediterranean.

COVID-19 has the world talking about immunity and health. According to Datassential COVID-19 Health at Home report, 78% of consumers agree that diet has a major impact on how well your body fights and protects against illness and 37% are interested in building immunity.

Nutrients that support the immune system — vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, and beta-carotene — are found in well-known, everyday foods that restaurants may already have in their pantries:

  • vitamin C: Citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts
  • vitamin D: Salmon, egg yolks, fortified foods like milk with added vitamin D
  • zinc: Red meat, shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, seeds, nuts, dairy, whole grains, eggs
  • beta-carotene: Sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, mango, broccoli, tomatoes

Immunity lives in the gut

The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes that live in our intestines and plays a major role in our immune function. A high-fiber and plant-rich diet supports the growth and maintenance of these beneficial microbes. Probiotics and prebiotics also are key components to microbiome health:

  • probiotics contain healthy microbes
  • prebiotics help feed healthy microbes

Supplements are often discussed when it comes to pre- and probiotics, but according to Len Monheit, executive director, Global Prebiotic Association, “consumers are becoming more proactive when it comes to immunity; the supplements side is benefiting, and food plays a significant role, too.

“Restaurants can highlight immune-boosting choices, including prebiotic-rich sources such as oats, barley, banana, Jerusalem artichokes and fermented foods.” Probiotic-containing foods include yogurt with live active cultures, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, and miso.

Adding immune system support to the menu

There are rules to follow when adding immune-supporting foods to the menu.

You cannot claim foods prevent or cure certain diseases, according to Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission laws and regulations, unless they qualify as a structure/function claim (the role of a nutrient or dietary ingredient intended to affect the normal structure or function of the human body, i.e., calcium builds strong bones).

However, MenuTrinfo has created an ImmunoSupportive™ seal to help restaurants create and identify menu items that support the immune system. According to Betsy Craig, CEO of MenuTrinfo LLC., “by consulting with health experts we have developed a way to identify positive and negative nutrients in menu items that impact immune health. Our job is to inform the consumer about what’s in their food so that they can make informed choices,” says Craig.