I’m seeing more reports of how nutrition can help us fight COVID-19. No one is saying that we can totally avoid or cure this disease if we eat right. But the case for improving our diets to get through this pandemic is certainly strong.
Our immune system, after all, is made from the components that we find in food. And like a well-established football team, a strong immune system needs the right balance of individual nutrients working together. These include proteins and vitamins (such as A, C, E, B6 and B12) and minerals such as iron and zinc. And we get these substances when we eat a balanced diet which includes foods such as eggs, meat, fish, poultry, soybeans, a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and produce. dairy.
Without a doubt, experts say, the foods we choose to eat (or not eat) have a profound effect on our immune system and our susceptibility to disease. Here are some ideas: Take a look at your plate. Does it contain a good source of protein? Are there a variety of green, red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables (M&M don’t count)? Does it include whole grains? Otherwise, a lack of key nutrients can reduce your resilience to infectious diseases.
Don’t put too many men on the ground. Supplements can help if our diet is lacking in certain nutrients, but don’t overdo it. Zinc, for example, is needed to strengthen our immune system and is mainly found in oysters, shellfish, meat, pork, poultry, beans and fortified grains. Excessively high doses of zinc supplements, however, can actually reduce the body’s ability to fight disease.
Eat your vegetables and other plant-based foods. Last year, before vaccines became available and before the highly contagious delta variant raised its ugly head, researchers in the United States and Britain conducted a telephone survey of people who tested positive for COVID- 19. People who reported eating more plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and vegetable oils) had a slightly (9%) lower risk of developing COVID-19 than people with lower intakes. And among people who contracted COVID-19, those who ate more plant-based foods had a 41% lower risk of developing severe symptoms.
Get your omega-3s. Also called fish oils, these fats (DHA and EPA) fight chronic inflammation. Some studies suggest that the presence of omega-3s in our blood can help reduce the severity of COVID-19. Besides oily fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel, other forms of these fats are found in flax seeds, nuts, and some fortified foods.
Think about vitamin D. A deficiency in this vitamin can increase our risk of contracting an infectious disease, researchers say. Until we know more, it’s a good idea to make sure we’re getting the recommended daily dose of 400-800 IU of vitamin D per day.
Coping with stress. Yes, it has to do with nutrition. Fear and distress can trigger hormones that push us toward the comfort of foods that feed us little more than sugar, fat, and extra calories. Stressbusters include exercise, prayer, and meditation. And don’t skimp on sleep! Sleep strengthens the body’s immune function.
Now more than ever, experts say, we need to make healthy eating a top priority to reduce our susceptibility and the lingering complications of COVID-19. Let’s do this.
Barbara Intermill is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist and Diabetes Care Specialist affiliated with the Monterey Peninsula Community Hospital. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating”. Email him at [email protected]