Staying Home & Staying Healthy
In recent weeks, many of us have had our lives changed drastically. We may be staying home, furloughed, unemployed, working from home, or working as an essential staff person (if that's you,thank you).
We have repeatedly heard that we can help stymie the virus' rapid spread by staying home. This can help our healthcare workers prepare for the influx of new patients. It can help manufacturing facilities convert to new processes to make personal protective equipment for those who need it most. It gives time to our healthcare system as we create and source additional lifesaving ICU equipment. Staying home helps protect the very people who cannot stay home because they are delivering the goods we need, or want, to our homes. We help "flatten the curve" by staying home and staying healthy.
Staying healthy at home may seem difficult to some. People are concerned about where and how to get fresh produce they like and are used to. People are stressed and indulging in comfort foods. Cool spring weather may keep us indoors and inactive more than normal.
However, staying healthy while staying home is possible. In fact, its importance shouldn't be underestimated. Having a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other specific nutrients can help support the immune system. A healthy and strong immune system can help your body defend itself from viruses and bacteria. Maintaining or improving your own health can not only help you stay feeling well, or minimize symptoms, it may help keep you out of urgent care clinics or hospitals. This can help free up space for people who need it most. Of course, a healthy diet must be part of overall good hygiene, so please keep washing your hands and stop touching your face.
Adequate intake of vitamins, minerals, and some trace elements are key to a healthy immune response. These nutrients are especially important for older adults, who may consume less nutrient dense foods and have naturally lower rates of nutrient absorption as they age. People who are 65 and over are also one of the most "at risk" groups for COVID-19, among other respiratory illnesses.
So which nutrients can help us bolster our immune system? Which foods do we find them in?
Vitamins C and E: These are antioxidant vitamins that can help repair the body's cells from oxidative stress. You can find vitamin C in citrus fruits, berries, and bell peppers. To bump up vitamin E intake, enjoy wheat germ, sunflower oil, nuts (almonds and peanuts), and seeds. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, collards, mustard greens, and broccoli are also great sources of these nutrients (and many more). You can also find vitamin E in fortified cereals and grains.
Zinc: Zinc is also an antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation. A growing body of research also shows zinc supplementation may help shorten or reduce cold symptoms. To consume more zinc, try adding shellfish or lean red meat to your diet. Beans, milk, and fortified grains are also good sources of zinc.
Iron: Iron helps immune cells proliferate and develop a response to infection. Iron can be found in red meats, lentils, liver, tofu, spinach, moringa, dried apricots prunes, and figs. Try consuming your iron rich foods along side vitamin C rich foods to enhance your bodies absorption.
Vitamins A and D: Even more antioxidant vitamins which help combat inflammation, and support immune response. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased susceptibility to infection. Vitamin A can be found in red and orange foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers. You can also find it in leafy greens, liver, and eggs. Vitamin D is found in liver, eggs, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, cheese, and fortified milks.
Vitamin B-6 and Folate: B-6 and folate are vital to supporting the function of immune cells. You can find vitamin B-6 in pork, chicken, salmon, and tuna. Folate is commonly found in fortified grains, beans, eggs, leafy greens, citrus, beets, and asparagus.
All of these nutrients are found in foods that can be readily available on a normal, good day. In our current crisis, we may not be able to find these nutrients in foods we know or use often. Use this as an opportunity to try new foods, and encourage your families to do the same. Try shopping with nutrients in the back of your mind. Explore new means of obtaining food, such as direct from a farmer, community support agriculture, or food subscription box. Try foods that are canned, fresh, frozen, or dried. They are all great ways to get the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.