How to Protect Your Immune System During Covid-19

2020 certainly has been quite the year so far. There is certainly a lot of information to digest on social media right now but I thought it was important to revisit Covid-19.

When I first heard about Coronavirus or Covid 19, I really did not think the pandemic would last as long as it has. In Ontario, Canada, it was recently announced that our social circles can expand. As individuals begin to open up his/her social circles and restrictions become looser, here is a gentle reminder of how to protect your immune system during these unprecedented times.

Outside of your designated social circle, it is still very important to practice proper hand washing and social distancing as we are definitely waiting for a vaccine to be developed to cure Covid-19. During this period of time, here are some practical tips of how to boost/protect your immune system during this pandemic.

When a person feels stressed, a fight or flight response is released by our body. As a result, cortisol is released to help get the body ready for action (i.e. mobilize blood sugar stores). At the same time, cortisol will suppress our immune system. When we feel stressed, our body’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients also decreases. Last but not least, when we feel stressed out, sleep is not as good. When we don’t get enough sleep, we feel even more exhausted which often leads to not eating well so it really is a vicious cycle.

This pandemic can also be a trigger for stress and/or binge eating in response to different types of emotions (sadness/stress/boredom/fear). Due to self isolation, many individuals miss the human touch and/or in person interactions. As a result, the individual may resort to food as a means of comfort. Think back to exam times and/or a very stressful job situation, did you eat more in response to stress to make yourself feel better (i.e. think chocolate and/or your go to “feel good” foods). If you were an individual who was used to a busy schedule who would always be on the go, you may be bored as the pandemic has forced everyone to adapt to a much slower pace in life. With nothing to do, food is also another way to fill time. Last but not least, the pandemic has created a feeling of scarcity for some as some individuals really do not want to go out any more than necessary in fear of the coronavirus. Individuals will buy a certain amount of food but because of the fear he/she lives in, he/she resorts to rationing out portions often resulting in smaller portions than normal.

If you are someone who is eating in response to stress and/or a certain emotion during these unprecedented times, recognize that it is OKAY. Be kind to yourself. Do not beat yourself up. These are very strange times and it’s okay to seek comfort in food. At the same time, if you find that you are an individual who is often eating in response to a certain emotion, is there a substitute activity that can replace food?

As briefly mentioned above, human connection is extremely important. Have you been taking advantage of modern day technology? Have you been reaching out to individuals via FaceTime, WhatsApp, Videochats, Zoom, Houseparty, etc.? For some, the virtual connection is not enough. If you know someone in need, have you dropped by for a porch visit? A simple short porch visit could make someone’s day. 🙂 If you know someone who is not able to go to the grocery store to get groceries, have you offered to help out and/or drop off groceries for him/her? We are all in this together so if you can help out, do your part. 🙂

As stress can decrease our immune system, here are 5 nutrients you want to make sure to include in your daily diet:

  1. Protein

According to research, protein not only helps us to build muscle but it can help our white blood cells produce antibodies.

Don’t skimp out on your protein sources. Protein can be both animal based and/or plant based. During these pandemic times, some individuals may be switching to more of a flexitarian lifestyle where plant based meals are eaten more frequently to help stretch the budget dollars and/or to make food supply last so that trips to the grocery store are really minimal.

The goal is to have ~30 grams of protein per meal. How does one get ~30 grams of protein at one meal? Make sure to have ~100-150 grams of animal protein PER MEAL (I emphasize this because many individuals think this amount is per day). If you are considering plant based sources, aim for 3/4 cup to 1 cup of tofu per meal OR 1 cup of beans per meal OR 2 eggs per meal (If eggs are your only source of protein at a meal, it is okay to have 2 at a time).

2. Vitamin C

As a very famous antioxidant, Vitamin C has shown to boost immune system. Having said that, Vitamin C is easily obtained through our diet. There is no need for supplementation. If an individual chooses to take Vitamin C through supplements, he/she tends to experience the placebo effect. No matter the dose of Vitamin C, an individual will most likely feel better after taking a Vitamin C supplement. Citrus fruits (i.e. oranges, lemons, limes, etc) and dark green leafy vegetables are some simple ways you can get your Vitamin C sufficiently through your diet. If you don’t like oranges, did you know that eating 8 strawberries at one time is like eating one orange in terms of Vitamin C content?

3. Vitamin D

As an individual living in North America, it has always been recommended to take Vitamin D daily. Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium and build bones. Research is now showing that Vitamin D can help fight respiratory tract infections.

Not a fan of supplements? Unfortunately, there are very few food sources that contain Vitamin D. Not only that but the portions needed to obtain 600 IU of Vitamin D is not realistic for many individuals. For example, to get 600 IU of Vitamin D per day, you would need to drink 6 cups of milk and/or a fortified milk alternative. Mushrooms are a source of Vitamin D but to get 600 IU/day, you need to consume ~5 cups. Egg yolks are another source of Vitamin D but did you know you have to eat 30 egg yolks to get 600 IU/day?

I typically like to recommend individuals take at least 1000 IU/day during the summer and 2000 IU/day during the winter.

4. Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats are anti inflammatory so it’s a good idea to include them in your diet now. The best source would be from fatty fish such as sardines, herring, trout, Arctic Char, tuna and/or salmon; however, plant based sources like flax, chia and walnuts can provide a little bit of omega-3 as well.

As fatty fish consumption is preferred, have these types of fish at least twice/week in your diet.  You don’t have to buy salmon fillets, you can buy cans of salmon. Instead of making a tuna sandwich, make a salmon sandwich. Tired of the usual sandwich combo, why not try to make salmon cakes? Sardines are DELICIOUS and they also make wonderful sandwiches. 😉

5. Zinc

If you are a seafood lover, make sure to consume a few more mussels/oysters/clams because these little bites of deliciousness contain a lot of zinc aka a nutrient which can help strengthen our immune system. Not a fan of shellfish? Don’t worry. Beans/legumes and/or nuts/seeds can also be a great source of zinc.

Do you have oatmeal for breakfast? Make sure to sprinkle on some nuts/seeds for some protein and zinc in the morning.

Are you a snacker? Instead of reaching for that cracker, why not grab a handful of nuts/seeds?

 

Food For Thought: Think about your current eating habits. What are some things you can change to help strengthen and/or protect your immune system?

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