Let’s get this out of the way first. There is no specific food or supplement that will prevent you from getting the corona virus (COVID-19). Currently there is also no known cure. This article promotes eating a variety of healthy foods and other lifestyle habits to keep your immune system in top form.Can you #eat to beat #COVID19? #Nutrition is vital for a healthy #immunesystem. Check out these tips for #quarantinecuisine. bit.ly/2Un8HYw Click To Tweet
Bridget Swinney MS, RDN, LD
My first tip might surprise you: get some fresh air and sunshine!
Getting outside is a good thing for so many reasons. For one, it can help you with social distancing, and keep you from going stir crazy from “sheltering in place.” When you’re outside, you’re not breathing inside air that could have lingering germs. Being outside exposes your skin to UV rays, which your body turns into Vitamin D.
The “sunshine” vitamin has been shown to have a profound effects on the immune system. In fact, many studies have shown that a Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk for certain acute respiratory infections. A meta-analysis of studies including more than 10,000 people published in the British Medical Journal summarized that supplementing with Vitamin D is safe and protected against acute respiratory infections. The greatest benefit was seen in people who were very vitamin D deficient and those taking Vitamin D daily instead of a larger dose less frequently.
You can get some vitamin D from food—swordfish, salmon, and some mushrooms (exposed to UV light) are excellent sources, followed by tuna. Fortified foods like milk, (as well as a few other foods like yogurt, orange juice and cereal) is where most American’s get their vitamin D. However, most Americans get less than half of the recommended Daily Value from food alone. And 40% of Americans may be vitamin D deficient (defined as a blood level of less than 50 nmol/L) according to the most recent NHANES data.
No conversation about keeping the immune system healthy would be complete without talking about hydration and sleep—just as important as nutrition to keep your immune system healthy. The general guidelines are: men need about 15 cups of water and women need about 11 cups per day. (You get some of your fluids from eating your fruits and veggies.) Fluid keeps the tissue in your eyes, throat and nose moist and also hydrates skin—which are physical barriers to germs.
If you don’t get enough sleep or good quality sleep, this can result in a decrease in infection-fighting antibodies and cytokines. Seven to eight hours of good quality shut-eye is the gold standard for adults, while teens need nine to ten hours and school-aged kids may need ten or more hours.
Eating to Fuel Your Immune System
At the stores, I’ve seen people stocking up on canned and dried staples, but skipping the produce, which I’ve heard there is still plenty of. Don’t forget your fruits and veggies!
Most people know that vitamin C is good for the immune system, which is why vitamin C supplements are nowhere to be found on supermarket shelves. However, vitamin C is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eating for immunity; many other nutrients are just as powerful. Next time you go shopping, put these nutrient rich, immune-boosting foods in your cart:
Apples: As they say, an apple a day keeps the doctor away…not necessarily due to their vitamin C content, but rather due to flavonoid content, mainly quercetin, which is anti-inflammatory and also thought to have antibacterial and antiviral benefits. Other rich sources of quercetin include cranberries, asparagus, onions, shallots, red leaf and romaine lettuce.
Citrus fruits: Provide some of the best sources of vitamin C but also contain other nutrients. Grapefruit, oranges and tangerines are now in season. Some type of citrus is available year round, and have a long shelf life when refrigerated. Other Vitamin C-rich produce: chiles, guavas, bell peppers (especially yellow and red), mustard greens, kale, kiwi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and papaya.
Sweet potatoes, pumpkin and other orange and green veggies: Vitamin A and of course it’s precursor beta-carotene, are crucial for the integrity of mucus membranes and for helping immune function. Sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, tomato sauce, cantaloupe, red peppers, butternut squash and mango all provide a good to excellent source. Find a yummy and comforting Pumpkin Curry Soup recipe using pantry items here.
Pomegranates/Cherries: They’re not quite in season yet, but the juice of these fruits are strong when it comes to fighting disease. Pomegranate helps the body fight both bacterial and viral diseases. Both sweet and tart cherries have shown to improve both the quantity and quality of sleep—a very important tool to keep you healthy. It has also been shown to decrease cortisol (a stress hormone) and reduce anxiety—which is definitely needed in times of crisis such as this. Cherries have many studied health benefits including decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation.
Tips for eating: When it’s cherry season, eating 25 sweet cherries a day affected sleep within 3 days. Pomegranate and tart cherry juices are pricey—make them go further by mixing 1-2 ounces with club soda or mineral water for a lively, non-alcoholic drink. Dried cherries are great in oatmeal, on your cereal or as a snack.
Freeze pomegranate arils on a lined baking sheet and when frozen, put in resealable bag. Use in the off-season in rice and other mixed dishes.
Honey: Put down that sugar bowl and grab a jar of honey—preferably locally produced. It’s been used medicinally for bronchial asthma, for throat infections and even for wound healing. Honey has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
Some research has shown components in honey could reduce airway inflammation—important if you have a respiratory disease. Honey is especially good in coffee and tea—which of course can help you and your mucous membranes stay hydrated—another important tool to fight infection.
Garlic: Not only can eating garlic help you with “social distancing”, it may also help your immune system fight whatever is going around. Compounds in garlic have been shown to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and many other health-promoting effects. Other members of the Allium family–onions, leeks, chives and scallions–contain similar antioxidant properties.
Oils, Nuts and seeds: They’re known for vitamin E content, which is an antioxidant and also enhances immunity. It’s also a nutrient of concern; food surveys show that most Americans don’t get the recommended amount in their diet. Sunflower seeds and almonds are a top pick, providing close to 50% of the Daily Value in only one ounce. Other nuts also have vitamin E, just in smaller amounts. Using sunflower or safflower oil in some of your cooking will also provide you with a good source.
Seafood and beans: Zinc is an important mineral for immune function and the richest food sources are oysters (avoid eating raw) meat, shellfish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. It’s also found in fortified breakfast cereal. Zinc is so potent, that zinc lozenges have been shown to help reduce the length of the common cold. However, too much zinc has side effects, so caution with those lozenges!
Cheers to Wine: With alcohol, “the dose makes the poison”, as they say, so take this tip in moderation. Red wine in particular has been shown to have many health benefits due to the variety of flavonoids, like those found in fruits, vegetables and chocolate. (Oops I forgot to mention chocolate, but it’s also full of polyphenols and flavonoids.) Good to know right now, is that a few animal studies found that polyphenols found in wine have been shown to fight against human and bird flu viruses. Will drinking wine keep you safe from coronavirus? Probably not. Could it help? Possibly. Either way, a glass of red may help you stay calm during these trying times, and will be especially enjoyable when paired with some delicious dark chocolate.
In Summary, My Advice to You Is:
Wash Your Hands Often
Eat a Variety of Foods
and above all
Try to Stay Calm. Stress is not good for your immune system, either.
Choose Healthier Fast Food!
Need grab-n-go with a side of healthy? Grab our fast food guide to help you navigate the drive-thru!