There's no way to sugar coat it: these are tough times. COVID-19 has affected everyone, everywhere, from health and friendships to financial security. Reading the news and watching social media helps keep us informed and engaged, but it can also be depressing (am I right!?). I try to find the silver linings each day, but some days are harder than others.
As we're all weathering the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings, we still need to eat well and nourish ourselves. That may be harder said than done since many grocery store shelves are eerily, apocalyptically empty. You may want to make your favorite recipe, but when you go grocery shopping, you can't find key ingredients (my experience!). As such, it's nice to have simple meal options that rely on frozen foods and pantry staples. But even those foods, like canned goods, dried beans and frozen produce can be hard to find. My advice is to eat as well as you can during this time, but don't worry if meals look a little different than normal. Instead of meal planning before you hit the grocery store, have a general idea of what you need, and then be flexible. For example, know you need eggs, milk, protein, fruits and vegetables, but don't plan entire meals on specific ingredients. And be flexible; if they're out of fish, get shrimp instead. Stock up on staples, plus herbs and spices, so you can add flavor to your proteins, carbs and fats. Meals may look more simple - like roasted chicken with potatoes and vegetables and whatever herbs you have on hand - and that's fine.
It's an unsettling and stressful time, but staying nourished is one of the best ways to support your physical and emotional health. In addition to trying to "meal plan" as best you can, there are key nutrients that help support a healthy immune system - something we all need during this time. These vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, along with sufficient sleep and stress management, will help you take care of your health now and in the future. Try to incorporate a serving at each meal, but don't stress over it. Taking a high quality multivitamin is a good way to cover your bases.
- Vitamin C - Vitamin C is known to help reduce common cold symptoms. It can shorten the duration of cold symptoms, as well as the severity of those symptoms. Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions, which can help protect our bodies from many things, including environmental oxidative stress. Vitamin C can be found in many fresh fruits and vegetables, including red peppers, broccoli, spinach, and citrus to name a few. If fresh produce isn't available, frozen foods contain just as much vitamin C, so opt for that.
- Zinc - Zinc is another major player in building up our immune system, but foods are often overlooked as a great source of zinc. It is essential for many cellular functions, including our immune system, especially in times of stress. Oysters are a well-known source of zinc, as is red meat. Plant-based sources, such as chickpeas and almonds, are also good.
- Vitamin D - Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, and for good reason! The sun is the best way to get vitamin D. Throughout the winter months, and due to pandemic conditions right now, you may be spending less time outside, so it’s best to find ways to increase vitamin D through food. Vitamin D is often overlooked for building up immune function, but insufficient vitamin D is linked to impaired immune function. Foods that are a great source of vitamin D are liver, egg yolks, fatty fish and mushrooms. This doesn't usually apply to many people, but liver is really high in vitamin D, so you don't want to eat it more than once a week.
- Selenium - Selenium is a trace mineral, which means your body doesn’t need a lot of it, but a little goes a long way. It’s essential for detoxification, as well as overall metabolism, and guards against oxidation. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, seafood, and some whole grains.
- Garlic - Garlic is a spice that often goes unnoticed when it comes to building up immune response. It’s one of the oldest remedies across many different cultures to help the immune system. It contains many different compounds that have the potential to influence immunity, and there are numerous ways to use it! Roast whole heads of garlic and put it in soups or spread it on bread, or blend raw garlic into sauces and dressings, you get the idea.
- Probiotics - By now, we all know the positive effects that probiotics can have on our gut flora, but they can also help our immune response. Probiotics are proven to help with elevating our immune system. In fact, a specific probiotic strain in yogurt may help reduce upper respiratory tract infections in the elderly. Get probiotics from fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and naturally fermented pickles (I love Bubbies). Click here for a recipe on how to make your own kimchi. It sounds intimidating, but it couldn't be easier!
I'll post a few recipes with immune boosting nutrients in the coming days, but feel free to email me if you want additional resources. And don't forget to sign up for my "Pantry Staples 7-Day Meal Plan" from the home page!