Lockdown tips: Nutrition is important
Like any fighting force, your immune system needs proper nutrition and fuel, especially in the present climate. To supercharge your natural defences during the pandemic, try to pack more of these powerhouses into your diet.
Best known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, vitamin D is an essential addition to your lockdown arsenal. Beyond contributing to the normal function of the immune system. Low vitamin D levels are increasingly implicated in many health problems. The highly absorbable form of vitamin D, vitamin D3, is best synthesised when sunlight directly hits the skin. However, thanks to our cloudy climate – not to mention modern ‘indoor’ lives, which are particularly prevalent at the moment – low levels of vitamin D are widespread amongst the UK population. Find it in: Egg yolks.
When you think immunity, you often think vitamin C – and you wouldn’t be wrong. A high strength antioxidant, vitamin C contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Vitamin C is an essential vitamin, which means your body can’t produce it; you need to obtain it from your diet. Find it in: Kiwi fruit.
Beta-carotene is a popular choice for many reasons. Once consumed, the body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A according to its needs. Amongst its credentials, vitamin A may help maintain the normal function of the immune system and the skin – another vital constituent of immunity. Find it in: Sweet potatoes.
The Department of Health recommends a 10mcg (400iu) supplement of vitamin D for everyone during the winter months. Due to the implications of Covid-19, the NHS advises this, too.(1)
As well as supporting the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, iron contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Changes in your iron status can affect the body’s immune defences in various ways and so it’s crucial to ensure a regular and plentiful intake of this mineral. Find it in: Red kidney beans.
The mineral zinc is involved in hundreds of processes in the body. Perhaps most importantly, zinc contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Beyond this, zinc also supports normal skin function, which is a physical barrier against infection. Find it in: Shellfish, especially oysters.
The trace mineral, selenium, also deserves mention in any discussions on immune health. Selenium forms an integral part of the free radical scavenging enzyme Glutathione Peroxidase, which serve a vital natural antioxidant function in the body. As such, selenium has always been a popular choice for health since it contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Find it in: Brazil nuts are a good source.
Members of the B vitamin family, niacin, vitamin B6, biotin, folic acid and vitamin B12 contribute to the normal function of the immune system. Often dubbed the ‘energy vitamins’, many of the B vitamins – namely (B2) riboflavin and (B3) nicotinamide. Pantothenic acid (B5) and folic acid (B9) – also contribute to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue, giving the immune system another helping hand. Find them in: Milk, liver and eggs.
Vitamin K2 is a rising star with scientists, whose findings suggest this nutrient may play a role in immune health. Crucially, vitamin K2 is needed for vitamin D absorption. And, as we’ve already mentioned, vitamin D contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Find it in: Leafy green vegetables.
Eat for immunity
It can be very tempting to throw caution to the wind and comfort-eat your way through lockdown. And while that’s okay from time to time, trying to eat with your immune system in mind will only serve your health in the present climate. Following a mainly wholefood diet, feeding your gut and drinking enough water are some of the best interventions to support your immunity during lockdown and beyond.
Go for wholefoods
Wholefoods are minimally processed, as close to their natural form as possible, and immediately identifiable (vegetables that look like vegetables, for example). Eating a mainly wholefood diet will help to educate and balance your immune system. Highly processed foods, on the other hand, often contain refined carbs, unhealthy fats, free sugars and salt. These foods are also a woefully poor source of dietary fibre, micronutrients and protein – and only serve to undermine your immune health.
Feed your gut
The gut and the immune system aren’t separate entities operating in isolation. In fact, 70-80 per cent of immune activity takes place in the gut. Therefore, feeding the bugs that live in your gut – collectively known as the ‘microbiome’ – means you’ll be supporting your immune system.
Drink more water
Water truly is the fountain of health. Remarkably, about 60 per cent of the human body comprises water. Even mild dehydration can compromise physical performance, along with digestion, kidney and heart function. And these complications may increase your susceptibility to infection.(2)
Aim for at least 1.5 litres or eight glasses of water every day – more if you’re active. A simple rule of thumb is to look at your urine: aim for a colour that resembles light yellow to transparent.
Consider living by this rule as much as possible in lockdown: limit your intake of shop-bought food products that contain more than five ingredients.
Variety is the spice of life
Eating under lockdown has taken a little getting used to. Now that most of us are at home, not only do we have to throw together three square meals a day (plus, do the subsequent washing up), but we also have to be more inventive and resourceful with ingredients to reduce trips to the shops. For some, more free time has breathed new life into cooking. But for others, food prep has become somewhat of an uninspiring slog. Whatever your lockdown food diary, consider incorporating some of these tips to jazz up your fodder.
Try a new cuisine
If Italian cooking is your thing, why not use lockdown as an opportunity to branch out into different cuisines? How about a Vietnamese pho (noodle soup) to warm your cockles? Or hunker down and make an Ethiopian legume stew along with traditional Injera (sour fermented flatbread) at the weekend? You could even throw a Mexican taco night one evening.
Consider recipe swaps with loved ones
We’re all looking for means of connection at the moment. And we know that food is the way to many people’s hearts. Consider swapping your favourite recipes with loved ones and give your verdict via Zoom. (It gives you another thing to talk about aside from your daily walk, right?)
Fermented foods are really having their moment. And with more time on your hands, you may want to whip up the Korean tangy, spicy condiment, kimchi. You can pickle most veggies, for that matter. And these fermented foods can bring your boring WFH lunch to life. (Plus, they love your gut!)
Grow your own herbs
Transform your garden, balcony, kitchen, or any sunny windowsill into a culinary Eden. Forget relying on sad, soggy leaves in the back of your fridge and carefully curate your very own herb haven, ready to garnish your lockdown menu. Oh, and you don’t need to be a seasoned gardener, either. You can buy pots of herbs at most supermarkets.
Store cupboard essentials
Garlic: The base of any stew, soup and curry, garlic has long been used to support health, especially in winter. Use liberally in cooking.
Ginger: Thanks to its warming properties, ginger is a popular herb and seasonal favourite. Add raw to juices, stir-fries, and rice dishes.
Echinacea: Echinacea is a traditional herbal remedy used for the relief of common cold and influenza type symptoms.
Beta-Glucans: Beta-Glucans are a type of fibre found in the cell walls of specific yeasts that may support immunity. Baker’s yeast is the best source of Beta-Glucans.
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nhs.uk. 2021. Vitamins and minerals - Vitamin D. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
Popkin. B, D’Anci. K, Rosenberg. I. Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition Reviews. 2010;68(8): 439-458.
Hachette.co.uk. 2021. How to stay calm in a global pandemic. Available online: https://www.hachette.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/How-to-Stay-Calm-in-a-Global-Pandemic-Free-ebook.pdf
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.