Wherever we turn there’s no escaping from the global spectre of COVID-19 casting a shadow over our daily lives. Inasmuch as there’s no known cure for the common cold so it is with all viral infections, medication can at best only alleviate symptoms whilst the immune system fights off the virus.
It is a strong and healthy immune system that will give you the best chance of fighting off coronavirus should you be unfortunate enough to succumb. In this endeavour we need to be proactive and diet is key to ensuring that we get enough of the vital vitamins and minerals that we require to build strong defenses. Although a healthy immune system is about lifestyle choices and long-term goals here are some of the ingredients that can be incorporated into your diet to strengthen and support your immune system.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that boosts your body’s defences and helps to encourage the production of white blood cells which help protect the body against infection. It is a misconception that vitamin C is a cure for the common cold, however studies have shown that it appears to reduce both the severity and recovery time.
Vitamin C can’t be stored in the body so it is important to eat the right foods everyday in order to get the recommended daily dose. Fruit, particularly citrus and kiwi fruit and vegetables, particularly broccoli and green peppers- are excellent sources of vitamin C. Look out too for products that are fortified with vitamin C.
Alongside vitamin C, zinc cannot be produced or stored in the body so must therefore be sourced through diet. Zinc has an important role to play in immune function and this is the reason it is often found as an ingredient in nasal sprays, lozenges and natural cold treatments. Zinc helps to keep the immune system strong and is necessary for immune cell function and cell signalling. A review of seven studies demonstrated that 80–92 mg per day of zinc may reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33%. Zinc supplements significantly reduce the risk of infections and promote immune response in older adults.
The best dietary sources of zinc are oysters, red meat, poultry, seafood such as crab and lobsters and fortified breakfast cereals. Beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products also provide some zinc.
Medicinally ginger is a superfood with antibacterial properties, wonderful for warming up the entire body and fighting off nasty germs. “Ginger stimulates defensive responses in the upper respiratory and digestive mucosa helping the body fend off infections” says Euan MacLennan, medical herbalist at an NHS practice in London.
It’s easy to incorporate ginger into your diet as it’s an ingredient that is prominent in many different cuisines, just make sure you use fresh not dried ginger. Alternatively, a few slices of ginger in a cup of hot water makes a soothing alternative to tea or coffee.
Garlic is another superfood which amongst it’s many attributes improves resistance to infection and is used in treating upper respiratory infections and asthma. Those who have plenty of garlic in their diet tend to be less likely to suffer from recurrent colds and generally recover more quickly.
Garlic works beautifully when matched with chilli, onions, ginger, turmeric, greens, beans, spinach, chicken, pork and seafood. Alternatively, for a stronger dose, raw garlic provides that instant hit. Slice the garlic thinly and sauté in olive oil and enjoy with olives. No excuses then to not consume it every day and to hell with worrying about garlic breath, it’s your health we’re talking about!
It’s the chemical in black pepper, piperine that is used as a remedy to prevent the recurrence of illnesses such as fever, which is why it was so popular throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. Black pepper can enhance the absorption and function of certain nutrients and beneficial compounds. In Ayuverdic remedies black pepper—when combined with ghee—is used as a breathing aid and a cough remedy.
There are few savoury dishes that can’t be enhanced with a crack or two of black pepper, for best results grind your own peppercorns as and when you need them.
Let’s be clear, if you succumb to a viral infection be it a cold, flu or coronavirus- none of these ingredients are going to cure you, but they are going to help to strengthen your immune system and give you a good chance of fighting back.
So stay safe, stay well and eat plenty of really good nutritious food.
Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.