Nutrition in the Time of COVID-19


Ok. Let’s get the bad news out of the way…When looking for ways to prevent infectious diseases like COVID-19, there’s no magic pill, single food or supplement that is guaranteed to boost your immune system or protect you against any virus. Now, for the good news: You can make nutrition a priority and help maintain or reinforce your immune system to stay healthy by eating a variety of healthy foods. The most important strategy to stay healthy is to feed your body and immune system right! And, yes, it is possible to eat healthy when stuck at home. You can easily secure a nice variety of healthy options even when your trips to the grocery store become limited by choosing shelf-stable foods like canned goods, pastas, rice and legumes; utilizing your freezer to store extra bread and meat; and selecting frozen fruits and vegetables to be used later for smoothies or soups—frozen produce maintains their nutritional value very well.

Nutrition can help boost your immune system with high nutrient density foods. Let’s begin by filling your plate with immune-boosting nutrients. One of the best ways to stay healthy is to eat healthy foods. That’s because our immune system relies on a continuous supply of nutrients to work at its highest level. Some of the key nutrients that play a role in immunity are vitamins and minerals with antioxidant abilities, proteins and water. Here are the top 5 nutrients that play an important role on your immune system and health:

VITAMIN C is an antioxidant that protect cells from oxidation, increases levels of antibodies in he blood and may reduce the duration of colds. The best way to consume this vitamin is by eating a combination of fruits and fresh vegetables every day—eating them raw is preferred since heat can destroy some of the vitamin. As Vitamin C is water soluble any excess intake (over 2,000mg/day) will be eliminated in your urine. If you take a supplement of this vitamin, buy one with 200-500mg and take it 2 to 6 times a day in morning-midday-night intervals. It is a good strategy to battle COVID-19— plus, you maximize its absorption.

VITAMIN D helps our immune system to stay strong during the cold and flu season. It alters the activity and number of white blood cells, which can reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses. Deficiency of this vitamin is associated with increased susceptibility to infection. Fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese, fortified milk, cereal and juices, tofu, mushrooms, and of course sunlight (20min/day) are all rich sources of Vitamin D. Even though there is no evidence that Vitamin D supplements will protect you from COVID-19, it’s wise to consider them if you feel you are not getting enough of this important vitamin through your diet.

PROTEIN is a key building block for immune cells and antibodies and has the main responsibility of helping the immune system work at its best. That is why a small portion of protein, from both animal and plant-based sources including fish, poultry, beef, milk, yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and lentils, is essential in each meal and snack (3-4/day) every day.

ZINC formulations, in combination with Vitamin C, may shorten the duration of symptoms of the common cold and help cells in your immune system grow and differentiate properly, studies have shown. Although the amount of Zinc each person needs can change, in general, this amount is naturally found in oysters, crab, lobster, shrimp, lean beef steak and pork chops, dark poultry meat, yogurt, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, wheat germ, beans and tofu, and is also available as a dietary supplement. But, beware! Excessive intake of this trace mineral by supplementation can interfere with the absorption of other nutrients like Iron and inhibit immune system function.

BETA-CAROTENE has antioxidant properties that help neutralize free radicals and is the main safe dietary source of Vitamin A, which is essential for normal growth and vision, and is vital for a strong immune system. Many studies suggest that Beta-carotene may enhance cell-mediated immune responses, particularly in the elderly, by helping antibodies respond to toxins and foreign substances. While eating a lot of Beta-carotene in foods like sweet potato, carrot, mango, apricot, dark leafy greens, broccoli, butternut squash, and cantaloupe is considered harmless, supplementation is not recommended because it can suppress the immune system and cause toxicity reactions in your body.

BONUS: PREBIOITICS & PROBIOTICS help to boost the health of the microbiome in your gut, which is where 70% of your immune system resides, and in turn support your immune system. Prebiotics are the dietary fiber that acts as a fertilizer for the good bacteria in your gut. Asparagus, whole grains, banana, onion, garlic, leeks, artichoke, legumes and beans provide plenty of fiber, which helps feed the good bacteria and regularly flush your gastrointestinal tract of harmful bacteria looking to gain a foothold. Probiotics are live bacteria that can be found in dairy foods such as yogurt and other fermented foods like kombucha and sourdough bread. They must be kept alive by controlling their temperature and environment (refrigeration and avoid long shelf time) to be active and useful.

Keep in mind that variety and balance are the key to follow a nutritious diet. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help you fight off COVID-19, even if you eat it constantly. Eat a variety of fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables every day and pay attention to serving sizes (at least 2 to 4 cups/day). If taking supplements, it is better to take a multivitamin with minerals once or twice a day with your morning and evening meals so that you don’t get too much of a single vitamin and too little of others. Lastly, drink plenty of water and avoid eating junk and processed foods. They are high in fat and sugar and may weaken your immune system, making you susceptible to infectious diseases and other health problems. Your body works hard to keep you healthy and active, so do your part by giving it the foods needed to stay strong.

By Dr. Iris I. Mercado, EdD CDN