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Flatten – don’t fatten – the curve

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HILIT MILNER

Healthy eating, boosting a healthy gut, a strong immune system, and the activation of our anti-inflammatory and antioxidant pathways, has never been more important.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D does more than promote healthy bones, it can optimise health in the face of COVID-19. Studies carried out on 11 000 participants published in the British Medical Journal showed that vitamin D offers strong protection against acute respiratory tract infections. Although they involved large daily supplemental doses (which I don’t recommend unless you have spoken to a health professional) you can easily increase vitamin D intake by eating oily fish (salmon, pilchards, sardines, with the bones included), egg yolks, and mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet rays.

Getting cabin fever from staying indoors? The best, easiest, and free source of vitamin D is sunlight. Spend at least 15 minutes a day in the sun. It will also help to calm your mind.

Vitamin D is important when it comes to mood, immune response, and gut health.

Immune health

It’s evident that supporting our immune system and good hygiene practices are extremely important – and will be for a while.

While a variety of factors can support our immune system including the breathing and meditation methods of extreme athlete Wim Hof, the food we put into our bodies can either weaken or enhance immune health by working deeply on a cellular level.

Gut health is one of the most important components of immune health, and supporting a healthy gut barrier can help prevent the penetrance of bacteria as well as inflammation that stems from the gut.

Eating foods that contain natural probiotics, such as yoghurt with live cultures and fermented products like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir (in small amounts), helps to plant healthy bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics, the fibres that feed the healthy gut bacteria, are found in asparagus, artichokes, onion, leeks, shallots, garlic, bananas, and whole-grain products.

On the other hand, more time at home often brings about the desire to snack on more convenient food. Unfortunately, these are often processed and refined carbohydrates, food that is high in sugar and trans-fatty acids, and can increase inflammation and worsen gut health.

Research shows that a particularly high intake of colourful fruit and vegetables during this time is important in limiting collateral damage when it comes to our immune response. Some even suggest as much as seven to eight portions of vegetables a day in which one portion is equivalent to one cup of raw vegetables or half a cup of cooked vegetables.

Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant boosts

Food that positively alters cellular metabolism works strongly on our anti-inflammatory and antioxidant pathways.

Brassica vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts) as well as dark green leafy vegetables (kale, watercress, bok choy, rocket, and baby spinach) contain compounds which switch on our master antioxidant conductors, making them important for immune support.

Variety is key when it comes to choosing your fruit and vegetables. The greater the variety of fruit and vegetables eaten, the more variant the polyphenols, vitamin, and mineral profiles will be. This even applies to choosing a different type of fruit within the same fruit family – for example, choosing Granny Smith apples instead of Golden Delicious. This is a wonderful tip, especially when you may have limited access to your usual variety of fruit and vegetables.

Please, please, don’t forget herbs and spices on your shopping list. Not only can we spice up our lives and add the flavour that is so greatly needed during these times, but herbs and spices contain the most concentrated forms of important nutrients as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents.

There are other good food sources that help to put out inflammatory fires in the body. These include omega-3 fatty acids, the most powerful forms of which are found in oily fish: salmon, trout, pilchards, sardines, herring, tuna, and mackerel; while vegetarian sources can be found in chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and seaweed. Also included are turmeric, containing the compound curcumin, and olive oil, one of my favourite liquid golds.

The food we eat is one area we should put effort into controlling during these “uncontrollable” times. Nourishing our body and emphasising the phrase “food is medicine” has never been more important!

  • Hilit Milner is a registered clinical dietitian who runs a private practice, works in a top private hospital, and has founded a wellness blog called ‘Sunrise by HM’. She views health holistically, starting from a cellular level and working her way out.

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