An article by exercise physiologist, Jennifer Smallridge.
You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief as restrictions begin to ease and many aspects of life are returning to normal. However, what is the new normal and can we navigate this transition safely?
It’s time to think about what life looks like now the restrictions are slowly winding back. It’s important to note that this pandemic is not over yet and we still have a long way to go! Not only can we protect ourselves from coronavirus on the outside by wearing face masks and practising proper hand hygiene, but we also build our defences from the inside by strengthening our immune system.
So, how can we look after ourselves and build a stronger immune system? Here’s a list of top nutrition tips to help you get started!
- Include more plant-based foods in your diet
One of the best ways to support your immune system is to ensure you’re eating plenty of colourful fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods. These are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which are importance for maintaining your health and well-being. A good guide is aim to eat at least 30 different plant-based foods per week. You can try adding:
- Sautéed baby spinach, mushrooms or tomatoes with your toast in the morning
- Different types of fruit with your breakfast cereal (but limiting to 2 serves of fruit per day)
- A variety of salad vegetables in your sandwich at lunch
- Grated carrot and zucchini in bolognese
- Colourful roasted vegetables with your dinner
If you’re looking for some delicious meal ideas, please see our blog for some healthy recipes.
- Ensure you are getting enough:
Protein: promotes healing, recovery and helps support immune health. Some great protein sources to include in your diet would be: lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, yoghurt, milk and legumes.
Vitamin A: helps to keep the skin and other barriers healthy. This is the best defence we have against bacteria and infections. Some great sources of vitamin A include: carrot, sweet potato, oily fish (e.g. salmon and tuna), liver, milk and yoghurt.
Vitamin D: helps support our immune system and can even help give us some degree of protection against acute respiratory infections. UV radiation from the sun is the best source of Vitamin D. Few foods contain Vitamin D – it only makes a small contribution to Vitamin D levels. Food sources include eggs, liver, fatty fish (e.g. mackerel, herring and salmon) and cheese.
Iron: essential for the activation of immune cells to fight off infections. Red meat, offal (liver and kidney), chicken, sardines, eggs, wholegrain cereals, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables are great iron sources for our body.
- Build your gut microbiome
Gut microbiome is the trillions of bacteria, viruses and microbes that live in our stomach. These play a pivotal role in the body’s immune response to infection and appears to be a key in determining our overall health. To feed our gut microbiome and help it thrive, we need to eat a variety of prebiotic and probiotic foods.
Probiotics – are the live cultures of good bacteria in our gut. These help change our intestinal bacteria to balance gut health. Great sources of probiotic foods include: yoghurt, kefir, kimichi, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh and miso seasoning.
Prebiotics – are the non-digestible dietary fibres found naturally in food. These help to promote the growth of good bacteria in our large intestine. Great sources of prebiotic foods include: asparagus, beetroot, green peas, leek, lentils/chickpeas, onion, garlic, pomegranate, grapefruit, rye bread and barley.
When the gut isn’t functioning efficiently, you may miss out on absorbing all the essential nutrients required to build a strong immune system. So, make sure you are eating a varied and balanced diet to help maintain the diversity and proper function of your gut microbiota.
The Take Home Message!
Despite the easing of restrictions, we still need to be vigilant and take responsibility for our own health. By eating the right foods to help build our immunity, it will not only improve our overall well-being but could potentially reduce the severity of the illness and help speed up rate of recovery. By ensuring we follow all the safety measures to help protect ourselves and others, everyone will be able to enjoy being social again!
By Vicky Foord
Accredited Practising Dietitian & Sports Dietitian