Published May 15, 2020
Infections and viruses can wreak havoc with your immune system and cause you to feel extremely unwell. During the outbreak of COVID-19, you need to supply your immune system with as much help as it can get. Keeping a well-balanced diet is vitally important, but a little extra of certain foods will top up that immunity and give you a chance to fight off infection.
Countries where the residents follow the Mediterranean diet usually have a high immunity level – until something as virulent as Coronavirus hits. However, following a diet of high quality vitamin rich foods (particularly found in a rainbow of vegetables) will certainly boost your immune system. Your immune system is your major form of defence against serious illnesses. The key to keeping your immune system in check is to ensure that you have a healthy gut – this can only be done by eating the right foods.
One of the biggest problems in the UK diet is over-exposure to toxins and inflammatory foods found in processed items. Most processed foods will have been exposed to pesticides or chemicals, so should be avoided. Cooking from scratch will always be the best method, and if you buy organic, you will be in an even better position.
It is difficult, agreed, to completely knock out those treats that we all love, such as takeaways and ready meals found in supermarkets, but these are harbingers in terms of keeping your body healthy. Have an occasional treat, but do not make it the be all and end all of your weekly dietary plan, even if it saves you lots of time to get food on the table. Currently, most of us have more time on our hands, even if working from home, so take that opportunity to cook yourself – batch baking or batch cooking is also a timesaver.
Other foods that can cause issues are desserts, sweets packed with sugar, fizzy drinks with excess sugar and even fruit juices that are not natural or squeezed by yourself. Even a friendly fresh orange juice contains a good deal of natural sugars and should be limited. Stay clear as much as possible of foods high in saturated fats, such as pizza, cheese and red meat.
Finally, in these testing times, toxins enter the body via alcohol, cigarettes and burnt food – many people take every opportunity to barbecue in good weather, or even simply just overcook and burn food. Toxins, known as PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) exist in abundance in all of these issues and can cause your body a great deal of harm.
Food ‘good enough to eat and more’
The basic principles of eating well and improving your immune system is to consume nutritionally dense foods, and not ‘empty calories’. You should look at your plate of food in segments, to achieve the right density of each food category.
According to NHS guidelines, on a nutritionally beneficial diet to keep your immune system in tip top condition, you should look at the following combinations:
- 30% vegetable content
- 20% fruit content
- 20% protein
- 30% whole grains
Within these percentages, you will gain the right combination of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to fight off infection. Foods that fall into these categories are:
Oily Fish, Eggs, Mushrooms – Vitamin D
The reason for these foodstuffs is to increase your level of Vitamin D – sadly lacking in many people in the UK. These foods are intrinsic in increasing immunity levels and combined with outdoor exercise and exposure to sunlight, will go a long way.
Peppers, Leafy Greens, Berries, Citrus Fruits – Vitamin C
Some of the best sources of Vitamin C. Even sweet potatoes contain a good level of Vitamin C. Other vegetables rich in this vitamin include tomatoes and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower. You have a wide range to choose from. Vitamin C is also an enormously powerful antioxidant to fight off infection.
Carrots, Spinach, Green Vegetables, Tomatoes, Whole Grains, Lean Meat
These foods are high in lycopene, selenium and beta-carotene and act more or less the same as antioxidants in the fight against infection.
Red and dark fruits, dried fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts – Antioxidants
Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, redcurrants, blackberries and raspberries are high in antioxidant content. Other fruits are also beneficial such as melon, apricots, peaches, figs, pears and cherries. If you are going to pack your cupboards with dried fruits as well, make sure they have no added refined sugar.
Beans such as kidney beans, pinto or black beans are also beneficial. In terms of nuts, one of the best nuts to consume is pecans! However, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios will also do the job.
In terms of vegetables, most of the ones listed above are multi-purpose and contain a good level of antioxidant properties.
Herbs and spices – Antioxidants
Not something you would think of immediately, but many are high in antioxidants. Garlic, coriander, basil, parsley, chilli, cumin, turmeric and curry (plus several more) are extremely beneficial when preparing meals and also add a lot of flavour. In terms of herbs, oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme and dill are perfect to serve with fish, chicken or Mediterranean vegetables for that extra boost of taste for your palates.
Whilst alcohol in excess is not a good idea for your body, small amounts of red wine will add to your antioxidant intake. Black tea and green tea are also a useful source of supply, but when milk is added, it will dilute the properties. Coffee is fine, but once again not with milk or in excess.
Your immune system is the key to staying healthy, but it is not a cure all for diseases and infections, simply a great chance to be ahead of the game.
Written by Bev Walton
Food Writer and Nutritionist, dietician
A chef of over 35 years with experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for both magazines, websites and ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I have a degree in nutrition and dietetics and work with restaurants and organisations within the healthcare profession. I am also able to take high quality photographs of recipes created. No writing task is too great, and whilst I specialise in the above, I am able to write about any topic you throw at me. Member of the Guild of food writers.