Diet, the Immune System and Covid-19
It’s well known that a poor diet can lead to compromised immunity resulting in susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. An imbalanced diet, poor socio-economic status, health complications, lack of physical activity and environmental pollution may all compromise the immune system.
If you’ve read the blog posts on Nutrients for the Immune System and Protection from Covid-19 you’ll know that being well nourished and free from underlying health conditions are key if you want to avoid becoming seriously ill with Covid and other infections. Dietary strategies can serve as a therapeutic tool to reduce the morbidity and mortality rate caused by infections and other health problems.
Here are a few dietary tips to support the immune system along with a delicious, immune supportive recipe:
Eat a Balanced Diet
Avoiding sugar and ultra-processed foods are important first steps to improving health. Getting sufficient protein, fibre, essential fats, fruit and vegetables helps to modulate immune function and inflammation. Cooking from scratch using fresh, seasonal ingredients as much as possible will help to increase the nutrient content of your meals.
Antioxidants are one of the body’s key defence mechanisms against infection. Nutrient dense foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beneficial oils supply the immune system with a wide range of antioxidants and phytonutrients needed for protection against disease and repair of the body.
Some antioxidants, such as polyphenols, found in plant foods act as powerful antiviral agents. Increasing dietary antioxidants can modulate the inflammatory response induced by cytokines in the body. Antioxidants can inhibit oxidation and thus prevent the production of free radicals that may cause a damaging chain reaction.
Phenolic compounds are found in potatoes, yams, dark green vegetables, grains, legumes, parsley, rosemary, red grapes, blueberries and cranberries.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are powerhouses of nutrition. Many contain compounds that have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Including these can benefit many aspects of health. Variety is good so incorporate a range of the following in your diet: ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, pepper, oregano, thyme, basil, lemon balm and chamomile.
Protein is important for repair and maintenance of body tissue, hormones, enzymes, antibodies and for a healthy immune system. Protein requirements increase with age; at least 1g per kg of body weight is recommended to maintain muscle mass in older people.
Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, quinoa, amaranth, pulses, tofu and tempeh.
The Essential Fats are vital for many aspects of health. Omega 3 fats have an anti-inflammatory effect and are actively involved in the functioning of the human immune system against viral infections (5).
Good sources include oily fish, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and the cold pressed oils of these seeds.
Here’s an antioxidant rich salad to get you started on your immune supporting diet:
Crunchy Rainbow Salad with Sprouted Alfalfa
2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into strips
2 yellow peppers, deseeded and cut into strips
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tamari
2 tbsp almonds
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
8oz/225g of puy lentils
Juice and zest of a lemon
200g/7oz rocket and watercress leaves
2 tbsp of chopped coriander
1 cup sprouted alfalfa
Salt and pepper
- Spread the sliced peppers onto a baking tray and sprinkle with 1tbsp olive oil and tamari. Bake in the oven at gas mark 7/220C for 50-60 minutes, stirring half way
- Spread the almonds and pumpkin seeds onto a baking tray and toast in the oven for 8 minutes until crunchy. Once cooked remove from the tray and leave to cool.
- Rinse the lentils, put them in a pan, cover with water and bring to the
- Skim off any scum that Turn down the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer until the lentils are just soft – about 20-25 minutes.
- Drain the lentils, put them in a bowl and stir in the roasted peppers along with 2tbsp olive oil, lemon juice and zest.
- Stir in the rocket, watercress, coriander, pumpkin seeds and almonds and season with salt and pepper.
- Garnish with the sprouted alfalfa.