We’ve heard it all before: Food is Medicine. So how can we use food to support ourselves during a pandemic?
The coronavirus has been around for a long time. Viruses mutate and we are constantly exposed to them on a daily basis. The current mutation we are dealing with during this pandemic is COVID-19 which is caused by SARS-COV-2 virus. The SARS virus is a type of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and is a type of coronavirus.
While we do not have enough information on the nutritional needs specific to SARS-COV-2, we do know that it is highly similar (approximately 86%) to other SARS viruses and can therefore, draw hypotheticals based on this research. We do have a lot of knowledge on how to improve our immune system to fight viruses in general.
This information is collated from the advice of a Functional Nutritionist and researcher and a Functional Medicine Physician.
WHAT FOODS SHOULD I EAT?
Eating whole foods is important because they provide the most abundant form of nutrition and have minimal contraindications to our health. Meanwhile, eating processed foods contribute to suppressing our immunity. Steer clear of sugar, processed oils (such as vegetable and canola oils – these are found heavily in packaged foods, deep fried foods, dips, sauces and salad dressing).
WHAT SHOULD I CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING FOODS?
Vitamin A is the biggest protector against disease.
Many people suggest green leafy vegetables (especially spinach and kale) as well as orange and red vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and beets. While these foods are high in beta carotene, it can be difficult for the body to fully convert these to Vitamin A.
The best source of vitamin A is liver (you could sneak some into burgers, grate frozen liver over meals or into a bolognese recipe), chicken liver pate and cod liver oil (must be good quality). Prior to WW2, cod liver oil was taken regularly to help fight against disease and was often prescribed by doctors.
You can also find Vitamin A in a good quality butter (grass-fed and organic), pasture raised egg yolks, caviar and oily fish.
Vitamin D is involved in the maturation of white blood cells and is our first line of defence against infection. Research demonstrates a consistent link between low Vitamin D levels and increased risk of respiratory infection.
The best source of Vitamin D is from the sun itself, otherwise salmon and tuna are also good sources.
**Vitamin A and Vitamin D are like best friends, they work together. Every molecule of Vitamin A needs a molecule of Vitamin D and therefore, it is not suggested to supplement these. Instead, try to get both through your food. If you are supplementing ONLY with Vitamin D, you will completely deplete your Vitamin A stores which are essential to fight infections. Cod liver oil and poultry liver are very rich in both of these vitamins.**
Vitamin C encourages the production of white blood cells, known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which help protect the body against infection.
Many fruits and vegetables have high levels of Vitamin C and fermented foods can have even higher levels. For example, sauerkraut contains 10X more Vitamin C than cabbage.
Saturated Fats are used to make surfactants on the lungs which keep the lungs moist. We know that the SARS virus is spread via coughing/sneezing and targets mostly the lungs. Therefore, in order to make surfactants, we need to ensure we are including good quality saturated fats in our diet.
Saturated fats are found in red meat, chicken skin, dairy products and coconut oil. Remember that moderation is key so ensure your diet is balanced.
Good quality fish oil contains omega 3 fatty acids which help to balance our immune system and decrease inflammation. Stick with getting this either from supplemental form OR from low toxicity seafood.
Good sources of fish oil and omega 3 fatty acids in particular can be found in cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines; nuts and seeds such as flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts; and of course cod liver oil.
Cysteine and Glycine are amino acids that the body uses to make glutathione which is a very strong antioxidant.
Good sources of cysteine and glycine include whey protein (if you can tolerate dairy protein), spinach, pastured poultry, low toxicity seafood and legumes.
Plant foods (vegetables) contain dietary fibre which provide phytonutrients. These nutrients feed all the beneficial bacteria of our immune system that reside in our gut. Therefore, the way in which we digest our food directly affects our immune system.
Foods for good digestion include garlic and onion (if tolerable), Jerusalem artichokes, fermented foods such as kefir and kimchi, apple cider vinegar, beets, papaya, radish, fennel, ginger, lemon water, kale and spinach, psyllium husk, bone broth and okra.
Black Tea has been shown to affect the enzyme function of the SARS virus. If you have a history of cardiovascular disease or heart arrhythmia issues, make sure you opt for decaf black tea.
Bone Broth (real bone broth, not from a carton or stock cube) is essentially melted collagen. We have more collagen protein in the body than muscle tissue and it is found in our skin, digestive tract, joints and tendons. Collagen protein is high in glycine (the number one detoxifier in the body) and is very protective against disease.
Coconut Oil is great for fighting viruses. Have a tablespoon every morning.
WHAT FOODS SHOULD I AVOID?
Avoid buying non-perishable foods full of processed ingredients. A lot of these foods are high in sugar, vegetable oils, preservatives and acidity regulators that cause inflammation and suppress our immune system.
Instead, buy whole foods that tend to last longer which include apples, pumpkin, butternut squash, turnips, root vegetables, cabbage, onion and garlic (great pre-biotics), sweet potatoes, seeds and sprouts (eg broccoli sprouts).
If you are needing to stock up on food, start batch cooking and freezing meals such as curries, stews and bone broth. Ferment and pickle foods (like the olden days) as these last much longer and actually increase the nutrient profile and probiotics in our food!
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
Exercise: Get moving and exercise! We can improve our immune functioning and nitric oxide creation to protect against viruses by exercising. Need help creating an exercise plan? Come in and see one of our Ace Certified Practitioners to help create a plan tailored to your needs.
Sleep – Melatonin: Higher levels of melatonin can help defend against SARS. We know that melatonin (sleep hormone) is naturally higher in children which may be a reason as to why they are less susceptible to SARS-COV-2. While supplementing melatonin can help, we do not have enough information on this.
Methods to naturally improve melatonin levels include:
- Improve your sleep/wake cycle by avoiding sugar, refined carbohydrates and coffee throughout the day
- Sleep in a very dark room that is cool at night
- Avoid blue lighting before bed
- Eat foods containing melatonin such as tart cherries and walnuts
Reduce Stress: Stress increases our cortisol levels (our stress hormone), depletes our Vitamin A stores and depresses our immune system. Therefore, it is vital that we have strategies in place to calm us down, such as meditation, laughter, music and yoga. These activities literally release happy hormones and reduce stress hormones. Massage and human touch is also proven to significantly reduce stress and help to reduce cortisol levels. If you are feeling stressed, our Ace Certified Practitioners are here to help.
The information provided in this blog is not a guide on how to treat Coronavirus and is only to provide you with knowledge on how to support your immune system during this stressful period.