How a nutritious diet might assist us get by way of the pandemic
I am seeing more reports on how diet can help us fight COVID-19. Nobody says that if we eat right, we can completely avoid or cure the disease. But the case for improving our diets to weather this pandemic is certainly strong.
After all, our immune system is made up of the components that we find in food. And like a well-rehearsed soccer team, a strong immune system needs the right interaction of the individual nutrients. These include protein plus vitamins (like A, C, E, B6 and B12) and minerals like iron and zinc. And we get these substances when we eat a balanced diet that includes foods such as eggs, meat, fish, poultry, soy, various fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and dairy products.
Undoubtedly, experts say, the foods we eat (or not eat) have a profound impact on our immune systems and 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 (M & M’s don’t count) fruits and vegetables? Does it contain whole grains? If not, a lack of essential nutrients can decrease your resistance to infectious diseases.
Don’t put too many men on the field. Dietary supplements can help when our diet is lacking certain nutrients, but don’t overdo it. Zinc, for example, is needed to strengthen our immune system and is found primarily in oysters, shellfish, meat, pork, poultry, beans and fortified grains. However, excessively high doses of zinc supplements can reduce the body’s ability to fight disease.
Eat your vegetables and other plant-based foods. Last year, before vaccines became available and the highly contagious Delta variant raised its ugly head, researchers in the US and UK conducted a telephone survey of people who tested positive for COVID-19. People who reported consuming more plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and vegetable oils) had a slightly lower (9%) risk of developing COVID-19 than people with a lower intake. 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-3 fatty acids. Also known as fish oils, these fats (DHA and EPA) fight chronic inflammation. Some studies suggest that the presence of omega-3 fatty acids in our blood may help reduce the severity of COVID-19. In addition to fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel, other forms of these fats are found in flaxseed, walnuts, and some fortified foods.
Consider vitamin D. Deficiency in this vitamin can increase our risk of developing an infectious disease, researchers say. Until we know more, it is a good idea to make sure we are getting the recommended daily allowance of 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D per day.
To deal with stress. Yes, it has to do with diet. Anxiety and stress can trigger hormones that drive us to foods that nourish us little more than sugar, fat, and extra calories. Stress relievers include exercise, prayer, and meditation. And don’t skimp on sleeping! Sleep strengthens the body’s immune function.
According to experts, now more than ever, we must make healthy eating a top priority to reduce our vulnerability and lingering complications from COVID-19. Let’s do that.
Barbara Quinn is a Registered Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator at the Monterey Peninsula Community Hospital. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at [email protected]