Give your immune system a real boost with healthy, plant-based foods.
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting countries around the world, many people have wondered whether there are steps they can take to stay healthy. As you already know, everyday preventive measures—such as washing hands and avoiding contact with people showing symptoms can go a long way in reducing your risk for viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens.
There is also evidence that nutrition and other lifestyle choices influence immune strength and susceptibility to infectious diseases. Whether these measures have an impact on a resistance to COVID-19 is not yet known. However, there is every reason to put what we do know about foods and immune defences to use. Here is what we know now:
Health and Diet
Eating a low-fat, plant-based diet may help give the immune system a boost. The immune system relies on white blood cells that produce antibodies to combat bacteria and viruses. Vegetarians have been shown to have more effective white blood cells when compared to meat eaters, due to a high intake of vitamins and low intake of fat.
Eating a low-fat diet may also be protective. Studies have shown that limiting fat intake helps strengthen immune defenses. Research also shows that oil may impair white blood cell function and that high-fat diets may alter the processes in the gut that aid immunity.
Maintaining a healthy weight can also benefit the immune system. Obesity has been linked to increased risk for influenza and other infections such as pneumonia. Plant-based diets are effective for losing weight, because they are rich in fibre, which helps make you feel full, without adding extra calories to your diet. Fibre can also lower BMI, which is also connected to improved immunity
Foods to boost your immune system
Yogurt - Yogurt contains probiotics. These improve your body’s overall function. Many processes today remove probiotics. So look for yogurt with a label that says “live and active cultures.”
Garlic- Garlic contains allicin, which is known to combat viruses and bacteria. However, you can only get these benefits with the real thing, not just garlic powder.
Citrus Fruits- we don’t naturally produce Vitamin C. It is found in citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and grapefruit.
Try to get a daily dose of Vitamin C to produce white blood cells that are responsible for fighting infection.
Almonds- Vitamin E, which is found in nuts, especially almonds, is another cold-fighting vitamin that doesn’t get the attention it should. If you eat a half cup of them, about 46 almonds total, you will have 100% of your daily recommendation of vitamin E.
Those with nut allergies can find vitamin E in dark greens such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and mustard greens.
Sweet Potatoes- Sweet Potatoes have beta-carotene in them which is used to create vitamin A. Vitamin A is great for both skin and immunity. The beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, as well as carrots, can strengthen your immunity and perhaps even make your skin look and feel younger.
Broccoli - It contains three of the formerly mentioned cold-fighting vitamins, A, C, and E, as well as lots of other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The trick to cooking your broccoli is to not cook it all the way – maybe barely or not at all. Eat it raw to keep the good stuff intact.
Shellfish- Zinc is often found in different types of shellfish, and it’s one of the main ingredients in maintaining a healthy immunity. Zinc helps produce white blood cells that are vital to the body’s defence systems. It’s recommended to get two servings a week, however, too much can lead to problems within the immune system. If you are allergic to shellfish, consider adding chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, cashews or yogurt, which are all rich in zinc.
Ginger- Ginger has long been recognized for its medicinal benefits. Closely related to turmeric, cardamom, and galangal, ginger is loaded with gingerol, a bioactive compound that functions as an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.
Both functions support immune health by keeping our response systems active and free of complications. Ginger is also used to help stop nausea and small digestive problems. You can add it to soup, fish, and stir-fry. Or my favourite, enjoy a cup of ginger tea.
Chicken - Chicken (and other poultry) is high in vitamin B-6, which is key in creating healthy red blood cells.
Vitamins, Minerals, and Antioxidants
Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables provide nutrients—like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E—that can boost immune function. Many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are also rich in-
Beta-Carotene: Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce inflammation and boost immune function by increasing disease-fighting cells in the body. Excellent sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamins C and E: Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that help to destroy free radicals and support the body’s natural immune response. Sources of vitamin C include red peppers, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, mangoes, lemons, and other fruits and vegetables. Vitamin E sources include nuts, seeds, spinach, and broccoli.
Vitamin D: Research shows vitamin D supplementation may reduce the risk for viral infections, including respiratory tract infections, by reducing production of pro inflammatory compounds in the body. Food sources of vitamin D include fortified cereals and plant-based milks and supplements.
Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that can help boost white blood cells, which defend against invaders. Sources include nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, beans, and lentils.
Immunity boosting shopping list
green leafy vegetables.
Our bodies need sleep to rest and recharge. Without a sufficient amount of sleep, we increase our risk for developing serious health problems—like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity. Inadequate sleep has also been linked to suppressed immune function. One study found that those who sleep less than five hours per night are more likely to have recently suffered a recent cold compared with those who sleep more.
To help you sleep, try adding healthful fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans to your diet. Diets rich in fibre and low in saturated fat can lead to deeper, more restorative sleep.