Staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak can help you avoid contracting the potentially deadly pathogen. Arming your immune system and creating a natural shield by eating foods rich in essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can help you fight off an infection, whether it is COVID-19 or other viruses and bacterium.

Foods that can help build a powerful immune system include lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, clementines, red peppers and broccoli. Foods such as berries, grapes, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes and beans are rich in antioxidants and can help boost the alkalinity of the body, according to Kelli Bonomo, a certified nutritionist, personal trainer and owner of Vault360 in Chicago.

A more alkaline biochemical makeup and consuming food rich in antioxidants reduces the risk of infection, Bonomo adds.

“The more acidic your body is, the higher risk you are for disease and illness, this is why it is extremely important to eat a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables,” she says. “In my coaching, I have found with all my clients, the minute they begin to consume whole foods, everything changes. Their joints begin to feel better, they are less bloated and the body actually begins to work closer to homeostasis, allowing things to work the way they’re supposed to work.”

Bonomo believes oxidative stress and inflammation may be reasons why the risk of complications from coronavirus infection appear to increase with age. Persons 60 to 70 years old make up, by far, the majority of serious COVID-19 cases.

“Their bodies are under extreme oxidative stress being older and those that have underlying issues — heart disease, diabetes, etc. — also have higher inflammation,” Bonomo says. “These are two huge factors. When hit with such a horrible virus, they can't fight it.”

Inflammation makes the body more prone to illness, Bonomo adds. “Eating cleaner” can help reduce inflammation in addition to boosting the immune system, she says, and suggests eating balanced meals that contain proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

“If we were to eat within an hour upon waking and approximately every three to four hours throughout the day, and in each meal included a protein, carbohydrate and fat, we would not only ignite our metabolism, we would lower inflammation, bringing in that protective layer to fight illness and viruses, stabilize the blood sure and bring homeostasis into the body,” Bonomo explains. “This is the best protection that we can have against this virus, or any virus, from a nutritional standpoint.”

According to Kathleen Castrejon, a Chicago-based registered dietitian and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, a strong immune system does not guarantee insusceptibility to disease. Other safeguards include washing hands before, during and after cooking, and providing maintenance to your body’s first line of defense, which includes your skin and mucous membranes

“This is crucial and your best way of protecting yourself,” Castrejon says.

Incorporating phytonutrients and phytochemicals from plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables and herbs can help reduce the risk of contracting and developing some illnesses.

“Those of us living in the Midwest may lack vitamin D due to the lack of sunshine in our winter days,” Castrejon says, and encourages consuming vitamin D-containing foods such as salmon, tuna, mushrooms, halibut, fortified soymilk, milk, yogurt and eggs.

Persons considering taking multivitamins should speak with their primary care physicians or a registered dietitian first before taking any over-the-counter supplement, she adds.

“During these times there may not be all of these foods readily available,” she says. “Please do not be upset if you can’t eat all of these foods. If you have them on hand it’s a great way to add some more nutrients, if not just eat what is available and allow yourself to do so without guilt.”

Immune-Boosting Smoothie

6 oz pasteurized liquid egg whites

2-4 oz unsweetened almond milk

1/2 cup frozen mango

1/2 frozen banana

1/4 slice orange

1/2 T coconut oil

handful of spinach or kale

3-4 packets stevia


Blend all ingredients together for a phytochemical-rich, immune-boosting breakfast or snack that contains proteins, carbohydrates and fats.