Personal trainer and fitness expert Majed Alhamad on what to eat to boost immunity and help feel better during the coronavirus pandemic.
As the coronavirus pandemic drags on and lockdown continues for many people, it’s natural to wonder how best to protect your immune system against the possibility of getting ill.
There is no one guaranteed solution to ensure your immune system will protect you against Covid-19 or any other illness, but there are things you can do to boost your chances. Various steps can be taken to keep your immune system optimal, and this in turn can help you stay healthy and give you an important sense of control during difficult times.
These steps include taking regular exercise, sleeping properly, washing your hands sufficiently well, meditating and working out how to manage your stress levels. And one of the most important things you can do is ensure you are loading up on immune-boosting nutrients in your daily diet.
Our immune systems need a variety of nutrients to work well, and the easiest way to ensure you’re getting them is to change your diet. Always load half of your plate with vegetables, fruit and salad to start off with. This ensures a good basic dose of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, all of which will help boost your immune system. Here’s how to get some of the most important nutrients directly from food.
1. Beta carotene from apricots, kale and carrots
Beta carotene converts in our bodies to vitamin A. And this is important to build and maintain a strong immune system. It helps antibodies combat toxins and foreign bodies in the system, and you can get it from the fruit and veg mentioned above, as well as from mango, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe melon, squash and spinach.
2. Vitamin C from broccoli, strawberries and oranges
Vitamin C is vital because it increases antibodies in our blood and helps to determine the white blood cells floating around. This then determines what kind of protection our immune system needs. There is research that suggests higher doses of Vitamin C could very slightly reduce the longevity of a cold, but this is still contested. You can get at least 200mg Vitamin C from combining foods like cauliflower, cooked cabbage, red and green peppers, sprouts and kiwi, strawberries, citrus fruits and grapefruit.
3. Vitamin D from cheese, mushrooms and eggs
According to Vitamin D expert Dr Michael Holick, who has published 18 books and 500 papers on the subject, Vitamin D is useful because it regulates the production of a specific protein that can kill infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses.
A lack of Vitamin D during winter is common due to decreased sun exposure, and this kind of deficiency can often weaken the immune system and increase your risk of developing viruses that can then cause upper respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D supplements might be able to help protect you, according to research.
As well as supplements, you can get Vitamin D from lots of different foods, including oily fish like sardines and salmon, milk and plant milk products that have been fortified (check the packaging), tofu and mushrooms. A simple blood test can tell you if you’re low in Vitamin D, and it’s definitely worth ensuring you’re getting enough.
4. Zinc from seafood, cereal and nuts
Zinc can help your immune system to grow and one study shows that supplements could shorten how long the symptoms of a common cold affects you. Despite this, scientists agree that there needs to be many more high-quality trials before any definitive conclusion can be drawn about this. You can get more zinc in your diet by eating lentils, tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, some cereals, oysters, crab, beef, pork chops, yoghurt and the dark meat from poultry.
5. Protein from nuts, eggs and milk
Protein is an important building block for the cells in our immune systems, as well as for the antibodies we need to fight disease. This is why it’s so vital to help our immune systems work as well as possible. You can get protein from plant-based sources if you are not eating meat, or from things like beef, poultry and fish if you are. Other sources include eggs, yoghurt, milk, cheese, seeds, lentils, beans and nuts. Swapping snack food with little nutrition to protein-rich snacks is a great idea to improve your intake. Try something like roasted chickpeas for a tasty, satisfying snack that is rich in protein as well as flavour.
6. Prebiotics from beans and bananas
Boosting the microbiome (the term for the entirety of microorganisms in the gut) is important for our immune systems. This is where prebiotics and probiotics are useful. Probiotics can be found in fermented dairy products such as kefir, aged cheese and yoghurt. You can also get it from fermented foods like miso, sourdough bread, sauerkraut and kimchi. Prebiotics can be found in whole grains, asparagus, artichokes, beans, bananas and leeks.
Eating a balanced diet, rich in nutrients, fresh fruit and vegetables will ensure you are receiving enough vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system functioning. None of this is a guaranteed fix, but there is enough scientific evidence available to show that what we eat matters for our health. Don’t forget to keep hydrated at all times too. Even mild dehydration can cause stress to your body and internal system. There are different views on how much water is needed, but you should definitely consume at least 2 litres a day. Men should drink more than women and remember that water-rich foods and other fluids count towards your daily intake.
|Majed Alhamad is an accomplished personal trainer who inspires his clients to pursue their fitness and health goals. Read more at his blog http://www.majedalhamad.com/|