As COVID-19 spreads across the nation, many of us are searching for what we can do to protect ourselves from the virus, right now. With no evidence-based treatment or cure available as of the publishing of this article, this desire might be leaving some of us feeling a bit powerless when it comes to our health.
To make things more confusing, there seems to be an onslaught of messages and advertisements about all sorts of immune-boosting supplements and tinctures with promises to keep us safe.
*RELATED 9 Ways to Boost Your Immune System
How are we to know what is true and what is nonsense? We caught up with Miami-based dietician Lucette Talamas MS, RDN, LDN (@MiamiDietitian) to help us navigate home-based health during this unprecedented time.
Is there anything that we can do at home, on top of social distancing, wearing a mask, and diligently washing our hands, to protect ourselves from COVID-19?
Lucette: There is no known evidenced-based treatment to prevent or cure COVID-19 yet, but there have been products and supplements claiming to do so. As we anticipate advancement in FDA approved treatments and a vaccine, we have to take precaution to avoid supplements and products that are not backed by science and may actually cause harm to your health.
What we do know, however, is that a healthy diet can provide essential nutrients to help strengthen a person’s immune response to fight off pathogens.
So, certain foods can help us boost our immune system?
Lucette: Our immune system is always running and fighting off viruses and bacteria. The idea behind a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle is to help your immune system run at its best so it will be ready to fight off any infection caused by a virus or bacteria.
Foods rich in vitamin A (or beta-carotene), vitamin C, vitamin E, and other nutrients like B vitamins, iron, and zinc help keep your immune system functioning optimally. (you see, it’s not just about Vitamin C!)
What are some healthy diet and lifestyle tips that will help support a healthy immune system?
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. This includes eating the right amount of calories to support a healthy weight. A low-calorie diet (i.e. less than 1200 calories per day) will not help you meet your macronutrient and micronutrient (vitamin and minerals) needs that will help your immune system run efficiently.
- Food first approach – eat your nutrients. Unless your healthcare provider has ordered for you to take a certain dietary supplement, you can obtain all the nutrients from a healthy diet. Dietary supplements carry risks such as unproven efficacy, untested and undeclared ingredients, and possibilities to exceed recommended upper limits of certain nutrients. Avoid the risks, and practice a food first approach. While all-natural, unprocessed foods provide nutritional value, these food below are particularly high in the following immune-supporting nutrients:
- Vitamin A rich foods: carrots, sweet potato, red bell peppers, green leafy vegetable like spinach, broccoli
- Vitamin C rich foods: citrus (oranges, lemon, limes), red bell pepper, tomatoes, melon, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli
- Vitamin E rich foods: almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts (or their nut butters), vegetable oils, wheat germ oil (*these are also high in healthy fats, so practice proper portions when enjoying)
- Vitamin B6: chickpeas, tuna, salmon, chicken breast, turkey, potatoes, whole grains, beans
- Zinc: Beef, seafood, poultry, beans, pumpkin seeds, almonds, & cashews, dairy – milk, cheese, yogurt
- Iron: beef, white beans, lentils, tofu, kidney beans, chickpeas, spinach
- Probiotics (health bacteria that live in your gut): Fermented foods like yogurt and kefir, non-dairy sources that contain live cultures
- Prebiotics (they help nourish the probiotics): whole grains, artichokes, onion, garlic bananas
- Other healthy lifestyle recommendations to support a healthy immune system include:
- Regular exercise
- Getting adequate sleep
- Minimizing stress
Now that we may have more time on our hands, it’s a good opportunity (and distraction) to get back into the kitchen and practice cooking skills with your family. Challenge yourselves to include some of the foods listed above in your dishes!
We are grateful to Lucette for sharing this invaluable information. While it might be tempting to find a “miracle cure” in your kitchen cabinet, the truth is that until we find a vaccine and/or cure, our best defense against COVID-19 just may be staying home, washing our hands, wearing facemasks, following government advisories, and doing our best to maintain a healthy lifestyle while sheltering at home.