Staying healthy is on everyone’s minds right now, and diet and nutrition play a huge part in helping your body battle COVID-19. To get the best advice on how to keep your immune system strong, we talked with longtime New Mobility contributor Joanne Smith. Smith is a certified nutritionist and the co-author of Eat Well, Live Well with Spinal Cord Injury & Other Neurological Conditions. We asked her what to eat, where to shop and how to stock up for weeks at a time, all without breaking the bank.
New Mobility: You’ve been working overtime to stay up to date on the latest dietary and nutrition advice for combating COVID-19. What is the general advice you are giving clients?
Joanne Smith: On top of all the basics, like hand washing and social distancing, it’s so important for us to support our immune system as much as possible. Eating a balanced diet is not going to prevent you from getting COVID-19. But if you catch the virus, you want to have the strongest immune system possible to help fight it.
NM: What vitamins or immune-boosting products would you recommend specifically for COVID-19?
JS: There are great products on the market but many of them are flying off the shelves. I’d look for blends of herbal remedies that include things like echinacea, astragalus and mushroom extracts. If you can find an immune formula that includes vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc and some of those herbs and mushroom extracts, you’re really getting everything in there that you need for your immune system.
Vitamin A is a natural antiviral — it helps enhance activity of white blood cells. Vitamin C helps activate neutrophils, which are powerful white blood cells that work on our front line defense. It also increases the production of lymphocytes, the white blood cells that play important roles in antibody production and coordinating immune system functions. Zinc enhances immune function by helping to produce and activate white blood cells. Vitamin D is also critical, as more and more evidence and research is showing it influences your immune system. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is usually 1,000 IU a day, but I’ve been hearing physicians the last couple of days saying, “Go as high as 3,000 or 5,000 IU a day.”
NM: What about beneficial foods or things we should be trying to eat more of?
JS: Seventy percent of your immune system is in your gut, so ingesting probiotics — whether they’re in your diet or in supplement — is important. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha or other fermented foods, will load up your gut with good, healthy bacteria to help protect yourself.
Also make sure you’re getting omega-3 healthy fats, because they reduce inflammation. What I have heard about this particular virus is it causes a cytokine storm. Cytokines are inflammatory molecules that can cause tissue damage and inhibit immune function. You want to reduce inflammation and the release of cytokines to support your immune function. Omega-3 is a fantastic natural anti-inflammatory. Fish, like salmon and sardines, are a good source, as are nuts and seeds. Try walnuts and hemp seeds.
NM: This sounds complicated. Is a multivitamin a good substitute?
JS: Don’t do a multivitamin. They have a little bit of everything, but it’s not enough to give you the kick and the boost that you want. If you can’t get these immune boosting formulas, then get yourself some A, C, zinc and D, separately.
NM: A lot of people are turning to services like Amazon Pantry and Instacart, as well as grocery store-based services like Peapod. Do you have any tips for people using or considering home delivery?
JS: Definitely do home delivery if you can. I’m doing a lot of home delivery right now, and the service that I use has pushed completely over to frozen. They used to do fresh, but given what’s happening, there’s nothing wrong with frozen fruits or vegetables. In fact, the way they usually freeze-flash produce now can actually maintain those nutrient values. So don’t be afraid of getting all your fruits and vegetables in a frozen form.
If you want to load up on broccoli and berries, that’s great, but you don’t necessarily have to break the bank and load up on fresh stuff. In fact, I’d say don’t do it, because you don’t know the next time you’re going to get to a grocery store — just do frozen.
NM: Speaking of not knowing when your next trip to the store will be, how would you recommend planning a shopping list that addresses these needs, will last for two or more weeks and won’t break the bank?
JS: I’m really cutting down to basics. I’m sticking to canned chickpeas and kidney beans, frozen food and supplements as much as I can. I’m not doing a lot of fresh stuff. Skip sugar, but make sure you have some butter on hand, as it will last for months in your fridge, up to a year in your freezer. Also, butter is a great source of vitamin A.
Two other things to grab are turmeric and protein powder. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is great as a natural anti-inflammatory. It’s pretty inexpensive and you only need a teaspoon in your tea or some hot water. Protein powder also goes a long way and lasts a long time. I’m having trouble getting chicken here, but I know I’ve got protein powder on hand. One scoop can give you 20 to 25 grams of protein. Throw in some frozen berries and nuts and you’ve got a tasty protein smoothie that’s also a good source of protein and healthy fats.
Recipe: Inexpensive Anti-inflammatory/Immune-boosting Green Tea Elixir
6 – 8 cups water
1 green teabag
1 lemon, halved
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Splash maple syrup
Fill up a pot of water. Cut a lemon in half, squeeze both halves in the pot and then place the lemon halves in the water. Add the turmeric, cinnamon and splash of maple syrup. Bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down to let it simmer for 10 minutes. This tea is one of the best things for your immune system.
Immune boosting, Non-perishable, Cost-effective Shopping List:
• Frozen berries
• Frozen broccoli or other favorite frozen vegetables
• Whole grain bread – sliced and frozen
• Whole grain pasta
• Canned chickpeas
• Canned lentil soups
• Frozen salmon
• Frozen chicken
• Pumpkin seeds
• Protein powder
• Olive oil
Keep up with Joanne Smith’s latest news and info at fruitfulelements.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.