You’re not alone if you’re feeling somewhat worn out these days. Many people are suffering from Covid fatigue as they try to maintain healthy living behaviours to avoid infection while, at the same time, sustain positive attitudes. Comfort foods may appeal to you now more than ever but it’s key to go for those that are chock-full of nutrients. These choices can not only support a healthy immune system to fight off infections, such as Covid-19 and the flu, but also support both your physical and mental health.
In spite of what you might read (with all the misinformation out there), no single food or nutrient can boost your immune system or even just provide you with a stronger one. Shortages or deficiencies in various nutrients though, can indeed impair how your body defends against infections. Nutrients like vitamin D, zinc, vitamin B6, selenium and iron can build resistance to infection while those that keep your energy up include iron, protein, vitamins B12 and B6, and niacin. As for strength, protein, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc are essential.
Healthy living, including eating a variety of nutrient-packed choices, taking part in regular exercise, decreasing stress, getting adequate sleep and moderating alcohol intake may all part of a smart strategy.
Here are some key factors to consider in keeping your immune system in top shape. They may not only help to prevent infections, like the coronavirus, but also decrease the severity should you contract them.
Vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, can be in short supply at this time of year here in the Great White North due to decreased skin exposure to adequate ultraviolet light of sufficient intensity. Numerous studies are showing that those with inadequate levels of vitamin D in the blood are at both a greater risk of developing Covid-19 in addition to a likelihood of having more severe infections. Vitamin D also supplies anti-inflammatory action and since this virus can cause inflammation, it may explain the vitamin’s possible effect on the severity of the infection.
This does not mean that taking vitamin D supplements can prevent Covid-19 or having a severe case, especially if you are not deficient in the first place. More research is needed for conclusive proof. But to avoid a deficiency in this important vitamin, as it can be difficult to meet requirements with food alone, many experts recommend taking supplements of 1,000 or 2,000 IU per day. Keep in mind that the recommended upper limit is 4,000 IU per day.
This mineral also plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy immune system. It’s also key for maintaining your strength. As scientists search for answers in defending against contracting Covid-19 along with its more severe consequences, zinc deficiencies have been identified as a possible culprit.
In a review of more than 110 studies, the results point to the use of zinc as potentially lowering the risk, duration and severity of coronavirus infections, especially for groups at risk of zinc deficiency including people with chronic disease, other illnesses and older adults. But again, more research is needed.
The average person though, is unlikely to be deficient in zinc. However, older adults are more likely to have lower levels of zinc in their blood. Zinc-rich selections include meat, such as beef and pork, poultry, seafood such as oysters, crab and lobsters, fortified breakfast cereals, pulses, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products.
Vegetarians can also be short on zinc due to the fact that plant-based sources of zinc may be less well-absorbed. Cooking plant-based sources of zinc, such as beans, lentils and brown rice, along with onions and garlic has been shown to improve zinc absorption. It also tastes delicious, which helps to make these foods a regular menu offering. Sprouted grains and pulses also provide for better zinc absorption.
If you’re considering supplements, be aware that while multi-vitamin and mineral preparations generally supply zinc, those which contain the mineral on its own may supply too much zinc. Excess amounts can cause gastrointestinal upsets and over long term, may actually impair your immune system functioning.
Fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs
Produce, whether fresh, frozen or canned, offers an assortment of nutrients, such as vitamin C and vitamin A, which contribute to a healthy immune system. Seasoning your food with a variety of herbs and spices, besides making your dishes more appealing may also defend against infection.
Lower your stress levels
While stress can be part of everyday living, Covid and its effects have certainly elevated levels. Though nutrient packed food is vital for maintaining a healthy immune system, relieving stress is key as well. Exercise, which besides contributing to fighting off infection, can also reduce the levels of stress hormones in your bloodstream. If you can’t head outside for some physical activity, look online for any enjoyable fitness options. Or just put on some music and get moving. And keep in mind that going for hours without eating can also boost stress hormone levels.
The Bottom Line
Healthy living, including making smart food choices, is the best strategy to not only provide you with arsenal of weaponry to fight off infections but to help keep you feeling vital through these difficult times.
Here are two nutrient-rich dishes, to provide you with both enjoyment and key ingredients to maintain your vitality.
Moroccan Meatballs with Herb Slaw
- 3 Tbsp (45 mL) canola oil
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) EACH lemon juice and red wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp (5 mL) EACH Dijon mustard and liquid honey
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) EACH ground cumin, salt and pepper
- 2 cups (500 mL) each shredded purple and green cabbage
- 1 cup (250 mL) carrot matchsticks
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) shaved red onion
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) EACH finely chopped parsley and fresh mint
- 1 cup (250 mL) no salt added kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 onion, grated
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp (10 mL) each ground cumin and coriander
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cinnamon
- 1 lb (500 g) extra lean ground beef
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) dried breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp (5 mL) each salt and pepper
- 3 whole-wheat pita pockets, toasted
- Slaw: In a large bowl, whisk oil with lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, honey, cumin, salt and pepper. Add cabbage, carrot and onion; toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Stir in parsley and mint.
- Meatballs: Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). In a large bowl, mash kidney beans with a potato masher until just thoroughly mashed. Add eggs, onion, garlic, cumin, coriander and cinnamon; stir to combine. Add beef, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Gently mix well. Form into 24 meatballs.
- Arrange meatballs on a greased foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F (71°C) when inserted into center of meatball. Serve with slaw and toasted pita.
Serves: 6 servings
- Serve with tomato and cucumber slices for a bright and fresh compliment to the meatballs.
- Serve with a dollop of assorted dips such as hummus, baba ghanoush or tzatziki.
- Replace cabbage and shredded carrot with a bagged coleslaw blend.
- Substitute kidney beans with black beans, navy beans or chickpeas.
- Trying to sneak the beans in? Use white beans and mash until very smooth even the pickiest of eaters will never notice!
Per serving (4 meatballs): 457 calories, fat 20 g (5.7 g of which is saturated), sodium 863 mg, carbohydrate 39.5 g, fibre 8.2 g, sugars 6.3 g, protein 30.4 g. %DV: zinc 66%, iron 36%, vitamin B12 110 %
Beef & Lentil Salad
Make with leftover cooked roast beef or steak, or season 1 lb (500 g) of Beef Grilling steak and grill for this meal. Add a portion of whole grain like cooked brown rice or whole grain couscous for Canada’s Food Guide of veggies, protein and whole grain.
- 1 lb (500 g) Leftover cooked roast beef or beef grilling steak (e.g. Strip Loin or Top Sirloin), 1 inch thick
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) canola oil
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) minced red onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced fresh or roasted mashed
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) EACH salt and dried oregano
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) baby arugula laves or torn fresh basil leaves
- 2 – 3 cups (500 – 750 mL) assorted grilled vegetables (e.g. zucchini, sweet red pepper, asparagus, etc.)
- 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1 can (540 mL) lentils, drained and rinsed
- 1 jar (170 mL) marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
- Carve leftover cooked beef in thin slices across the grain; set aside.
- Whisk together oil, red onion, garlic, vinegar, basil, salt and oregano in large salad bowl. Add arugula, grilled vegetables, tomatoes, lentils and artichoke hearts. Gently toss together and season to taste.
- Serve with beef and a cooked whole grain like brown rice or whole grain couscous.
Serves: 4 servings
To prepare using a freshly grilled steak instead of leftover cooked beef, season 1 lb (500 g) of 1-inch thick Grilling Steak (e.g. strip loin) all over with 1 tsp EACH Italian seasoning, coarsely ground pepper and salt and ⅛ tsp garlic powder. Grill over medium-high heat for 4 to 7 minutes, turning at least twice, for medium doneness (160F/71C). Let stand for 5 minutes. Carve steak into thin slices; serve with lentil mixture.
Per serving: 658 calories, fat 26.8 g (5 g of which is saturated), sodium 612 mg, carbohydrate 52.7 g, fibre 9.8 g, sugars 5.1 g, protein 50.3 g.%DV: zinc 122%, iron 52%, vitamin B12 120%