Dr Elena Philippou, PhD, RD
22 Mar 2020 - 4 minute read
COVID-19: Boost your immune system!
Boost your immune system to help fight COVID-19. Read below to find out more!
We suddenly found ourselves in a lockdown, we practice social distancing and we are trying to protect ourselves from an invisible enemy: the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. But instead of staying home and gaining weight by overeating, let's boost ourimmune system with the right foods. And as for overeating, try to see this time as an opportunity to engage in more creative activities, connect with old friends and exercise at home.
So which vitamins and minerals strengthen the body?
You've probably heard of Vitamin C, but it would be good to know that zinc, omega-3 fatty acids but also vitamins A, B, D and E and iron are essential for a healthy immune system.
Supply your body with enough Vitamin C by eating citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines, grapefruits but also kiwis, strawberries, berries and vegetables such as broccoli, tomatoes and red peppers. Vitamin C, in addition to strengthening the immune system, also has antihistamine properties, contributing to the faster recovery from the common cold and making its symptoms such as a stuffy noseand sore throat more tolerable. Although we don't know much about the association between Vitamin C and the new coronavirus, at least for the common cold, studies have shown that Vitamin C along with zinc can improve recovery time.
If you follow a healthy diet with salad at every meal and 3 fruits a day, you will definitely get enough Vitamin C. Ifyou are a smoker, it is best to take a Vitamin C supplement.
Zinc and omega-3 fatty acids
To increase your zinc intake, eat legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and black-eyed beans,as well as whole grains (oatmeal, wholemeal or rye bread, rice or wholemeal pasta). Zinc increases white blood cell count and makes the cells more aggressive, helping to fight disease. In order to get enough omega-3 fatty acids, consume fatty fish such as sea bream, sea bass, salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines twice a week. Good sources of omega-3 fats also include nuts, especially walnuts,flaxseeds, green vegetables such as broccoli and eggs enriched with omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation in the lungs and that’s why they might contribute to overcoming COVID-19.
Vitamin D helps fight respiratory tract infections by strengthening the lungs. It issynthesized in the body mainly through the effect of ultraviolet radiation of the sun on our skin. However, it is important to note that the frequency or deficiency of vitamin D in both Cyprus and worldwide is very high, so many people need supplementation. We suggest you do a blood test if you have not already done so. Good sources of Vitamin D include oily fish as well as egg yolk and cheese.
Equally important for boosting the immune system are vitamins A and E. Vitamin A protects against infections by boosting immune system cells that destroy microorganisms. At the same time, it has a strong antioxidant effect, thus strengthening the body and protecting it from the free radicals that cause oxidation. Good sources of vitamin A and β-carotene (provitamin A) are dairy products, mainly cheese, full fat yogurt, as well as eggs, fish and liver (but limit to maximum consumption of once a month due to the high cholesterol content and possibly toxic substances). The conversion of β-carotene to Vitamin A is best done by consuming fat at the same time. So try to eat foods cooked in tomato sauce and olive oil.
Vitamin E is also necessary for its antioxidant activity and is found mainly in foods that contain fat since it is fat soluble. Enrich your diet with this vitamin by consuming oils such as olive oilor sunflower oil, olives, unsalted nuts such as walnuts and almonds, peanut butter and avocado. By consuming a variety of these foods, you will help to stimulate the production of immune system cells when necessary. In fact, research has shown that the body's response to certain vaccines is better when vitamin E intake is high.
Iron can also help to boost the immune system and can be found in food either as heme iron or non-heme iron. Good sources of heme iron are mainly meat, fish, shellfish and eggs, and non-heme iron, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, parsley), lentils and in smaller quantities dried fruit such as raisins. To boost iron absorption, consume sources of vitamin C such as oranges, tomatoes, kiwis, strawberries with or after the food that contains iron.
Variety of foods
Eat a variety of foods to ensure adequate amounts of all the nutrients as they 'work' togetherand therefore a balanced, varied diet offers far more than individual vitamins.
It is extremely important that we all be very careful with hygiene, even when it comes to food packaging, since the coronavirus lives for a few hours or days, even on surfaces. We should clean our hands with soap and water, use antiseptic solutions, meticulously clean surfaces and cooking utensils. Finally, it is equally important to note that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is closely monitoring the issue and confirms that there is no indication that the virus can be transmitted through food.
We wish everyone to go through this ‘storm’ as painlessly as possible, to learn to live better with our loved ones and to appreciate more the small, tiny joys of life.