With the global coronavirus pandemic in full swing, a deluge of articles have surfaced recently offering advice on what to eat to ward off the virus along with a number of quick fixes and miracle cures. Most of the advice revolves around how to boost our immune systems, but no one food is directly linked to a better immune system and certainly none can prevent you from contracting the virus. However there are a number of proven, proactive steps you can take to give yourself the best shot at staying healthy and happy while weathering this pandemic. Below is our list of ten things you can do today to put you and your body in the best possible position.
Above all, be wary of unscrupulous marketeers preying on a vulnerable, anxious population and check your national public health guidelines as the situation continues to evolve.
Avoid ‘magic’ foods or remedies
Ignore the articles about miracle nutritional cures. These range from consuming lots of garlic, herbal teas, special yoghurts, and supplements such as zinc and Vitamin C, turmeric and chicken soup to simply sipping water. None of these approaches are based on scientific evidence.
Whilst zinc lozenges and Vitamin C supplements have some evidence of working in the case of a common cold, the coronavirus is different. If taking your normal supplement of Vitamin C, Zinc, or multivitamin makes you feel better and in control, then carry on, but be sure to check any possible interactions with other medications.
Following any special diets e.g. low carbohydrate, ketogenic or fasting (excluding religious reasons) is not advised.
There is no one specific nutrient which will give you a better immune system. But a mixed diet with lots of fruit and vegetables has a certified gold star benefit. A balanced diet will give you both the macronutrients (protein and carbohydrate) and the vital micronutrients. Eat a wide range of foods if you can to cover all food groups.
Get your Vitamin D
Vitamin D is especially important for your immune system and fighting infection. Derived mostly from sunshine during the summer months, we get little from our food. With the restrictions currently in place around the world curbing our outside activity, ensuring we are getting enough of this vitamin is especially important at the moment.
Try to get out in your allotted outside time (especially if sunny) either by exercising outside or simply sitting in the garden or on a balcony for at least 10 – 15 minutes in the sunlight if possible. We are all advised to take a supplement of Vitamin D; 10 micrograms per day. Food sources of Vitamin D include oily fish (e.g. salmon or sardines), eggs, meat and milk as well as some fortified products (e.g. cereals, margarines, and yoghurts).
Continue with probiotics
Whilst there is some evidence that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium may shorten the duration of colds, it is not yet clear whether they have any effect on the coronavirus. However it would be prudent to continue if you are already taking them.
Watch the calories
As opportunity for exercise is limited your requirement for calories is also reduced. Your appetite will somewhat compensate for this but boredom and lethargy may kick in and draw you towards food treats. Treat yourself by all means, but be mindful about what you eat, steering clear of high calorie foods such as sugary or fatty foods.
Keep a routine
If you are self-isolating it’s important to maintain good nutrition and hydration, especially if you are feeling unwell. Try to eat and drink regularly even if you feel unwell. If you are not able to cook then tinned soups, microwavable or frozen ready meals may help.
You have more time to cook, so be inventive and learn new skills like making bread or trying out new recipes. Food may be difficult to find, so plan your menu using the food you already have, but also think ahead and write a shopping list. Trying different recipes and new meals with spices and sauces could make you look forward to eating. Easy to prepare foods such as dried pasta, tinned sauces and soups, canned veg and beans make useful bases for meals. Make a batch of dishes and freeze.
Use up perishables like fruit and vegetables first. Sort your fridge out and only keep in there what needs to be chilled thereby freeing up space for the more perishable foods. Use frozen food and vegetables to make smoothies, crumbles and compotes. Frozen foods are just as nutritious.
Be inventive with cooking to maximise food availability e.g. roast a chicken for a main meal, use leftovers for a stir fry and use the bones to make stock which makes a delicious base for risotto or soup.
Cut your exposure to the virus
Keep your shopping trips to a minimum and avoid panic buying and stockpiling. Stock up on foods and staple products which will last longer than a week, for example potatoes, onions, root vegetables, rice, couscous, and pasta.
You are unlikely to catch coronavirus from food but continue to follow food safety advice by washing hands, avoid putting your hands to your face and clean kitchen surfaces.
Be mindful of stress and sleep management
Chronic stress may diminish the immune system. Keeping calm, meditating and exercising mindfulness are all good weapons against this. Exercise and getting outside while respecting social distancing measures is equally important. Get lots of high quality sleep, aiming for 8 hours per night.
If in doubt, seek nutritional advice
If you have any specific or urgent questions about your nutrition, ask a nutritionist if virtual appointments are available: modern technology allows for convenient and safe virtual consultations.