It’s without question that those who eat a healthy, well-balanced diet of fresh foods, tend to have both a stronger immune system and a lower risk of infectious diseases. This sort of diet, often referred to as a ‘ Mediterranean Diet,’ consists of eating fresh, unprocessed foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish and some meat. What’s more, this sort of diet is also proven to help you get a better night’s sleep.
Another consideration with regards to healthy eating is to avoid added sugar and salt. Cutting down sugar is certainly something to consider if you are overweight, not least as obesity is a risk factor for Covid-19. In addition, limiting sugar and starch consumption will improve your immune function too.
Outside of trying to eat more healthily during Covid, if you aren’t buying your food online, it’s likely that you are trying to minimise the number of shopping trips in order to reduce Covid risk. Here, overshopping leading to food wastage is another consideration with regards to what to buy especially with regards to shelf-life.
‘What foods to eat combat Covid’ thus becomes a combination of balancing your shop to include healthy foods with both short and longer shelf life.
Eat a variety of fresh and unprocessed food.
Nutrients are always best absorbed when eaten in food, rather than supplemented – Eating 5 (portions of fruit or vegetables) a day, is often suggested as the best place to start when building a healthy diet. It’s also important to vary the types of fruit and vegetables we eat too. This will ensure you get all the different vitamins, minerals, protein, dietary fibre and antioxidants your body needs. One great technique is to eat ‘all the colours of the rainbow’ as this will deliver a wide spread of vitamins and minerals.
Buy longer lasting fresh food that can be frozen if not used.
Most of us always look at the ‘use by date’ of the fresh food we are buying. However, it’s worth considering whether the fresh produce you are buying can be frozen if needed, especially when you are buying more than normal in a single shop. Frozen food has a similar nutrient profile to fresh and will of course last longer. A small percentage of nutrients are lost, however ( especially Vitamin C) in the blanching process which most vegetables need before freezing.
Longer last fruit which can be frozen.
Citrus fruit ( which are great for Vitamin C) and apples tend to have good shelf lives and can be frozen ( apples chopped). Berries can be frozen too, although strawberries are better cut first.
Longer last vegetables which can be frozen.
Vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage tend to have a good shelf life, as do the root vegetables, including carrots potatoes, sweet potatoes and beets. Vegetables which are in season at the moment are also likely to last well. In November these include cabbage, beetroot, swede, and parsnips.
Which nutrients do I need to protect myself against Covid 19?
If you are eating a balanced ‘Mediterranean Diet’ you should be getting all the Vitamins and Minerals you need to protect ourselves and build a healthy immune system. Make sure you don’t overcook vegetables though, as it leads to the loss of important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
There are however three nutrients which deserve special attention, which are Vitamin C, Vitamin D and the mineral Zinc.
Interestingly, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc are also regarded as key nutrients to consider if you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep. The others being Magnesium, Calcium and Vitamin B6.
Vitamin C has a role, amongst others in both preventing inflammation, and supporting a healthy immune system. In fact, Vitamin C, above all others, has the scientifically proven research to this effect. In addition, there are a lot of studies underway to see if supplementing Vitamin C can help Covid symptoms. The assumption is that Vitamin C reduces inflammation. Research continues, with one test already showing good results. It’s felt that Vitamin C may have a positive effect on the more severe cases of Covid.
Key Foods – Citrus fruit (especially Kiwi Fruit) red pepper, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes.
Vitamin D is often called “the sunshine vitamin” because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light. It’s needed for joints and bones, mental wellbeing, a good nights’ sleep, and a healthy immune system. A recent study in Spain, on Covid patients in hospital, showed that Vitamin D supplementation reduced Covid symptoms. Other trials continue aiming to prove the theory that Vitamin D has the ability to impede the severe inflammatory reaction that can follow coronavirus infection. The NHS recommends that we take 10mcg of Vit D daily in the darker months from October to March. If you aren’t getting outside during lockdown this becomes even more important.
Key foods – Fatty fish ( Salmon, Tuna, Trout etc), fortified milk and mushrooms, egg.
Zinc has a supportive role in many parts of our immune system. That’s why it’s included in lozenges to help with colds and flu. Previous studies have also shown that giving Zinc reduced the risk of death due to pneumonia infection. A number of scientists suggest that giving Zinc, to those deficient in it, would decrease the duration of infection, rather than the severity of symptoms. However, a study in Spain showed that those who survived Covid had higher levels of Zinc in their plasma.
Key foods – Nuts and Seeds, legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas), meat, shellfish, poultry, dairy, eggs, tofu, whole grains, mushrooms and spinach.
Foods with long shelf with the key nutrients for Covid.
Apart from eating fresh produce in a Mediterranean Diet here are a few foods with longer shelf lives which supply a combination of Vitamin D, Vitamin C and Zinc. If you are considering buying canned produce always aim to buy those without added salt and sugar.
Eggs are a great source of protein and vitamins and minerals including Zinc. The yolk of an egg also supplies good levels of Vitamin D
Salmon, Sardines and Tuna tend to be the favourite canned fish all are great sources of protein. Fatty fish has the benefit of also supplying lots of Vitamin D. The healthiest canned option is stored in water, rather than oil or brine.
Chickpeas, Lentils and Beans are great sources of vegetable proteins and great for homemade soups or stews and supply high levels of Zinc.
Nuts and Seeds
One of the best sources of Vitamins and trace minerals, including Zinc, is nuts and seeds. They make great snacks and are even healthier if unsalted.
Unrefined whole grains are great sources of fibre and have a long shelf life. Wholegrain oats, wholegrain rice, buckwheat, quinoa, pasta are all easy to prepare too. Whole grains have good levels of Zinc.
Fermented foods tend to keep well and are great for your gut bacteria and immune system. These include yoghurt, miso, kefir, sauerkraut and Kimchi. A healthy gut biome will also help you to get a great night’s sleep. With regards to sleep eating, a Mediterranean diet, including fermented food is a great base to build from. Then in turn a great night’s sleep helps to rejuvenate your immune system.
Drinking between 8 and 10 cups of water is recommended but other drinks such as lemon juice ( unsweetened and diluted), herbal teas are great too. Avoid drinking too much tea and coffee to limit caffeine intake. These may lead to dehydration and can negatively impact your sleeping patterns. Also, avoid sweetened fruit juices and soft drinks (fizzy and still) which contain sugar. Equally, look to limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol weakens the immune system and will also disrupt sleep if drunk too close to bedtime.
Get a good night’s sleep too
Sleep restores and heals the body and is essential for optimal immune function.
Eating the right foods is a core component for getting a great night’s sleep. If you aim to eat a varied, Mediterranean diet, including fermented food for your gut biome, it should provide all the nutrients you need. If you combine this with, exercise, getting outside in the day, and good sleep hygiene it gives you the best chance of setting up a great nights sleep.
If you need more help with what to eat for Covid please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find more information in this great article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website