To keep your immune system as healthy as it can be, these are the nutrients she recommends and how to get them:
• Protein: Meat, fish, seafood, chicken, eggs, dairy, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes and lentils.
• Zinc: Oysters, shellfish, meat, dairy, baked beans, pumpkin seeds, cashews and almonds.
• Selenium: Brazil nuts, oily fish (such as tuna and sardines), meat, eggs, wholegrain bread, baked beans and oats.
• Iron: Red meat, lentils, legumes, spinach, tofu and potato with the skin on.
• Copper: Shellfish, meat, nuts, seeds, wholegrain cereals and chocolate.
• Vitamin A: Leafy greens, orange and red fruit and vegetables (such as sweet potato, carrot, red capsicum and apricots), milk, oily fish and eggs.
• Vitamin C: Fruit and vegetables, particularly red capsicum, oranges, tomato, potato with the skin on, kiwifruit, broccoli and berries.
• Vitamin E: As vitamin E is fat-soluble, all its food sources contain fat – such as wheat germ, avocado, nuts and seeds – but it is also found in green leafy vegetables and broccoli.
• Vitamin B6: Meat, seafood, potatoes and chickpeas.
• Folate: Spinach, brussels sprouts, asparagus, legumes, orange, papaya and banana.
FOODS TO LIMIT
Chambers says some foods have been shown to dampen immune response so should be limited if you’re trying to support healthy immunity. These include refined carbohydrates, sugary foods and takeaway foods such as chips, burgers, ice-creams and cakes. Processed meats and excessive amounts of alcohol also adversely affect immunity.
“These foods are not nutrient-dense,” she says. “They can also affect our gut health, which is part of our immune system, as well as making us feel uncomfortable and disrupting our sleep, which is very important for immune function.”
DIET TIPS FOR IMMUNOCOMPROMISED PEOPLE
Being immunocompromised means you have a weakened immune system and a reduced ability to fight infection. This can include people going through chemotherapy, taking immunosuppressing drugs, living with certain chronic diseases, and experiencing over- or under-nutrition.
“The most important thing you can do is maintain a balanced, wholefood diet and limit processed and takeaway foods,” Chambers says. “Also, follow strict food safety guidelines such as avoiding raw and undercooked animal products like meat, seafood and eggs, unpasteurised milk products, and deli meats and salads.”
TRUSTING YOUR GUT
Fact: around 70 per cent of your immunity is in your gut. So if you want to support your immune function during the pandemic, focusing on the health of your gut is one helpful approach, says accredited practising dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan. Your gut microbiome is a collection of bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses that not just co-exist peacefully with us, they are actively involved in helping us with digestion and their activities are largely beneficial. In particular, there is an intimate relationship between the microbiome and the immune system, McMillan says.
“A disturbance in the balance of microorganisms, called dysbiosis, which can result from poor diet, repeated antibiotic use, lifestyle – such as smoking or excessive alcohol – and some illnesses is associated with altered immune responses and may impact your body’s ability to fight an infection,” she explains.
“I see gut health as being central to overall physical and mental health. If you feed the microbiome, then you ensure a nice, diverse, strong, healthy microbiome, and that, in turn, is going to help to support good immune function.”
The best way to feed your microbiome is by eating a diet that contains a range of different fibres, plus foods that are rich in a group of plant compounds called polyphenols, McMillan says. These are found in leafy greens vegies, blue and red coloured fruits like berries, and also in tea, coffee, cocoa, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
“Essentially fibres are carbohydrates that we can’t break down ourselves, so our gut bugs do it for us,” McMillan says. “That fermentation of fibre creates a cascade of by-products and different things that help keep the gut lining healthy, help keep the gut moving as it should and also we absorb any of those by-products which then have effects all over the body. The microbiome is intimately involved with the immune system and the products of fermentation act as signalling molecules communicating with immune system cells, helping to ensure an appropriate optimised response to infection.”
FRUIT AND VEGIE PICKS
With supermarkets being short on supplies, getting fresh produce regularly may be more challenging. These are accredited practising dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan's recommendations for nutritional fruits and vegetables that may last the distance:
• Root vegetables. “Carrots, onion, potatoes, sweet potato, pumpkin, squashes, even zucchini – these sorts of things last longer than your leafy greens, lettuces and fresh herbs,” she says.
• Frozen boxes of spinach. “You can pop those into cooked meals so that you’re getting your greens,” McMillan says.
• Apples and oranges. “They will last for weeks and weeks,” she says. “In hot weather, you are best to put pop them into the fridge. Remember that fruits are releasing ethylene gas which ripens other things, so you want to put them into a crisper drawer with the humidity slider open to let those gases come out, and keep them away from things like leafy greens, or you’ll make those foods go off more quickly.”
EASY MEAL IDEAS FOR QUARANTINE
“If you do get sick and you really can’t go out to get your groceries, and you haven’t got someone dropping them off at your door, then you can throw together really quick and easy meals with a packet of pasta or rice, some frozen vegies and a can of tomatoes,” McMillan says.
This article originally appeared in the special Coping with COVID issue of The Suite Life.