As 2020 (finally) comes to a close, we are being presented with new challenges to successfully navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Colder weather means that Canadians are spending more of our time indoors; and the upcoming holidays may lead to additional social interactions and an increase in travelling, despite official recommendations. These risks mean public health measures like face coverings and physical distancing are more important than ever- there are currently no other proven methods for preventing COVID-19. (Please see Waterloo Region Public Health website for more specifics.)
We also know that a healthy diet is important to provide the right nutrients for a strong immune system. And our immune system is our body’s defense mechanism against any and all pathogens, from colds and flu viruses to other germs like parasites or bacteria. Here are a few recommendations below to target your nutritional efforts to give your immune system a fighting chance.
1. Eat The Rainbow
Listen to your mother! Eat your vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins like Vitamin C and A, and minerals such as iron. They also contain phytochemicals like the beta-carotene found in carrots and resveratrol from foods like grapes. All of these nutrients are essential to the production and function of immune cells which help your body fight off viral infections. They also act as antioxidants which protect you against cellular damage.
The fruits and veggies that pack the most punch are those with the brightest colours. My top 5 are oranges, carrots, blueberries, pomegranate and spinach. Aim for 8 to 10 servings of fruits or vegetables per day. 2. Focus on Digestion
The importance of our gut health is becoming more clear than ever before, particularly for our immune function. In fact, scientists are now saying 70-80% of our immune cells are in our gut. There are cells inside our intestines that interact with the gut bacteria – the microbiome – that reside outside our body. So for a healthy immune system, you need a healthy microbiome.
That gut balance can be improved by eating fermented foods like sauerkraut from Germany or kimchi from Korea. And good quality probiotics can also play a role. But the best way, according to Dr. Jack Gilbert of the American Gut Project, is by eating at least 20 different types of plants per week. Fruits and veggies, yes, but also whole grains, beans and nuts count too. Gilbert’s research team asked 15,000 people about what they ate. The ones who ate at least 20 different plants had better gut balance. 3. Limit Sugar Intake
Months of social isolation and dire headlines have meant that more people have been suffering from stress and anxiety in 2020. In times of stress, many of us reach for comfort foods like ice cream and cookies. Unfortunately, overconsumption of these foods can lead to weight gain, mood fluctuations, diabetes and, you guessed it, a suppressed immune system. In this study, immune response was significantly depressed by a high sugar diet. And in this study, consuming 75 grams of sugar reduced immune cell function for up to 5 hours afterwards leaving pathogens with plenty of time to attack.
To reduce sugar consumption, figure out what’s behind the desire. If it’s comfort you crave, make a list of other things that offer comfort – like a warm bath, a phone call with a friend, or a new herbal tea ritual – and choose one of those first. If you still want the sweet treat, try halving your usual portion and eating it slowly, without distractions. Savouring it may leave you satisfied with a smaller amount.
4. Prioritize Sleep Sleep is absolutely crucial for health and wellbeing. Those who sleep less, get sick more often, and are more likely to suffer from mental illness. Make sure to keep a regular schedule and prioritize getting at least 7 hours per night.
Most people in Canada are deficient in vitamin D, which is a key nutrient needed for both a healthy immune system, and balanced moods. Healthcare professionals will usually recommend taking a minimum of 1000IU per day (which is just 1 drop!). Oftentimes when people are deficient a higher dose is needed. If you have trouble with frequent illness or poor mood, it might be worth getting tested to make sure you’re supplementing the right amount.
For more healthy immune system tips, lab testing, and individualized recommendations, consider naturopathic care at CARESPACE.