Eating, living and staying healthy during Covid-19
Life right now may seem like the stuff of movies. You know, like the one featuring Morgan Freeman as President of the United States? But it’s not a movie, COVID-I9 is real, as is the lockdown that we’ve been living in.
With vaccination trials still ongoing and speculation rife about the causes and the cures, it’s understandable that feelings of helplessness, insecurity and worry might set in. In light of this, it’s useful to focus on what we know about infectious diseases and what we can do to maintain our health in the current circumstances.
Our immune system is constantly active. Without us even realising, it routinely fights bacteria, viruses and foreign invaders. Much of the time we are asymptomatic and remain unaware of all of the work going on in the background. A prime focus during this time is supporting our immune system to do its job effectively. We can do this in two ways, not overburdening our system and by nourishing it with the nutrients that support its operation.
There are a few simple yet effective diet principles that we can follow to optimise our health.
Fruit & Veg
A diet containing between 9 and 13 servings of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day, provides a range of powerful phytonutrients, or plant nutrients. These have multiple health benefits, including supporting our digestive system which houses approximately 70% of our immune system.
Consuming approximately 28 to 35 g of fibre per day from whole foods such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains and beans and pulses, also contribute to a happy belly, healthy gut and immune health as a result. (The British Nutrition Foundation breaks down how you can consume close to 35g of fibre in a day)
Feed the Gut
Feeding our gut bacteria to maintain a healthy range and variety of microbiome in our digestive tract is an important contributor to our immune health. You can do this by regularly eating fermented foods and foods containing live bacteria. These include yogurt, preferably 0% fat and sugar-free, sauerkraut, kefir, (a fermented milk drink, similar to yogurt), tempeh (fermented tofu, also great for hormones), kombucha, miso and kimchi (Japanese pickle).
Avoid or reduce immune health offenders such as added sugar, high salt, fried, high fat and processed foods as well as simple and refined carbohydrates usually made from white flour foods.
Inflammation and Immunity
COV-19 is associated with a cytokine storm, or a high level of oxidative stress, which is known to produce cell-damaging free radicals and inflammation. In light of this, we should aim to keep inflammation under control by including a range of fruit and vegetables as discussed earlier and anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger, turmeric, berries, citrus fruit, oily fish, avocados, walnuts and green tea in our diet.
Antioxidants and Immune Health
As mentioned above the cytokine storm that has been linked to COVID-19 is damaging to our cells. Cells are the smallest components of our bodies and combine to form bones, organs, skin, and muscle. To protect our cells, we should avoid foods that promote free radical damage and inflammation. These include foods that are grilled and fried, as opposed to steamed or stewed.
Secondly, our diets should include antioxidant foods like citrus fruits, berries and kiwis, as well as herbs and spices such as cloves, peppermint, turmeric, ginger, thyme and cinnamon; nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds and fruit and vegetables.
Vitamin D is a key nutrient when it comes to immune health, hormonal balance, supporting our heart, regulating our moods, reducing inflammation and supporting our bone health.
Black and brown people living in the western hemispheres of Europe and North America should pay close attention to vitamin D as the lack of sunlight in these regions, combined within the protective nature of melanin from the sun’s rays, means that we can struggle to produce enough vitamin D naturally from sun exposure.
Eating vitamin D rich foods such as eggs, mushrooms and cheese and supplementing with a good quality vitamin d supplement are useful ways to ensure our levels are enough. Get tested to check on your levels.
Although there is no evidence currently to show that antiviral foods protect against or prevent COVID-19, regularly taking in antiviral foods such as garlic, elderberry, ginger, green tea, colloidal silver, olive leaf and St John’s Wort is a useful daily practice to support your immune health.
Sleep plays a major role in managing inflammation. It supports our immune health and is a key time for physical repair.
Prioritise sleep by having a consistent sleep hygiene routine. It might include avoiding screen time one to two hours before bed and reading, journaling, stretching, or organising tomorrow’s to-do list instead.
Waking up refreshed and ready to start your day is a sign of a good night’s sleep. Aim for 6 – 8 hours per night and stick to regular sleep and wake times
Stress is a large contributor to low level, ongoing inflammation in the body, precisely the kind we want to avoid.
Although stress is unavoidable, we can reduce some of the negative effects by doing an honest assessment of our roles and responsibilities and reviewing what we can let go of, and asking for help in areas that we can’t relinquish.
Practices that help us better cope with stress include breathwork, exercise, yoga, having a creative outlet, Epsom salt baths, spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation, laughter and being in nature.
Self-care and emotional wellbeing is imperative in this time.
Take time to do things that you enjoy and that allow you to be creative and express yourself, be it cooking, drawing, joining an online dance class, or writing. Take time to connect with friends and family, those that you feel truly heard and supported by.
When you feel in a funk, shift your energy, through physical movement, social connection or breathwork, including mindful breathing or meditation. In addition, avoid the information overload from TV, social media and group chats.
Finally and importantly, although this isn’t the 2020 that any of us planned, try to be in a place of gratitude for the lessons that have and surely will continue to come through this.