Moving into heightened alert levels brought many different challenges for New Zealanders, not least how to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
The rapid change of pace we’ve all experienced is bound to impact on our physical and emotional health. Nutritionally speaking, isolation brought a great opportunity for those of us wanting to improve our health and work on our relationship with food. Why? Because it gave many of us more time to spend planning, preparing and enjoying our meals and snacks each day! So we decided to have our nutrition experts at Feel Fresh Nutrition compile their top tips for eating well – and offer up some healthy habits which can be incorporated into your lockdown routine – and beyond.
Eating Well and Your Immune System
We already explored the important role that food can play when it comes to supporting our immune systems. So, what do we know about supporting our immune system during this time? Interestingly, coronavirus is similar to SARS in the way it enters the body and infects cells, so we can make general assumptions based on this similar model. According to Chris Masterjohn PhD, former professor at Brooklyn College in New York, specific nutrients that may support us during this time are elderberry, zinc, and copper1. Also good old vitamin C, which is a well-known immune support tool that acts to reduce severity and duration of the common cold, and Vitamin D, which is proven to reduce upper-respiratory tract infection2.
The best way to gain these nutrients is always through a balanced and varied whole foods diet. If you do choose to supplement with zinc and copper, look for an option that contains both as it’s important to maintain a balance of the two. Chris Masterjohn recommends 10-15 milligrams of zinc 4 times a day and 4-8 milligrams of copper, as well as 700 to 1000 milligrams of elderberry per day through lozenges, capsules, or a syrup during this high-risk time of coronavirus1. These dosages should not be taken for longer than 12 weeks because there are no long-term studies to support this recommendation past 3 months.
Taking a good multivitamin which contains the above-mentioned nutrients is also an easy way of ensuring you get the right balance and cover your nutritional bases - in case you have gaps due to fewer fresh foods being available. But before you choose, it’s best to seek professional help to determine if you actually have any deficiencies. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting too much of a single nutrient - and that can be problematic too.
Better yet, you can eat a variety of foods which are naturally rich in these nutrients. Here are some of our favourites:
- Shellfish (oysters)
- Seeds (Hemp, squash, pumpkin and sesame seeds)
- Nuts (cashews)
- Whole grains
- Dark chocolate
- Some vegetables (potatoes)
If you’re after a zinc-rich recipe, give this one a try - https://feelfreshnutrition.com/blog/2019/3/19/lentil-and-eggplant-bolognese
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds)
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard)
- Dark chocolate
If you’re wanting to try a copper-rich recipe, check out this one - https://feelfreshnutrition.com/blog/2019/7/4/granola
Vitamin C-rich foods:
- Chilli peppers
- Blackcurrants and berries
- Herbs such as thyme and parsley
- Brussels sprouts
Here’s a Vitamin-C rich recipe which uses mostly canned ingredients – great for lockdown! https://feelfreshnutrition.com/blog/2019/6/27/cheap-as-chips-chilli
Vitamin D-rich foods:
- Fatty fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines
- Fortified foods like dairy, (including cheese) soy milk and cereals
- A little time outside every day with some skin exposed to the sun is the best way to obtain this critical nutrient. As we come into the cooler months, a daily walk or other outside activity around the middle of the day is recommended. Just be sure to always wear sun protection and take the time to understand your own skin, and any individual risk factors you may have. Make sure to talk to your GP if you have any questions about safe sun exposure3.
Check out this vitamin-D-rich recipe. https://feelfreshnutrition.com/blog/2019/6/27/pesto-crusted-salmon
Hydration, fibre and prebiotics
Sufficient hydration, adequate daily fibre intake (found in fruits and veggies), as well as prebiotic food sources found in fermented foods like sauerkraut or kombucha are an added bonus to support a healthy GI tract, which plays a critical role in immune response and signalling4. Avoiding ultra-processed foods as much as possible will not only make you feel better but also reduce high blood sugar levels which can impair immune function5.
Stress, sleep, and mindfulness
Getting enough quality sleep is crucial to supporting your immune system. Research shows that inadequate sleep results in an impaired immune system6. Sleep is also vital to the effects of stress on our mental health. When we’re tired, we’re less motivated to be productive, move our bodies, and fill our day with things we enjoy. Our advice is to create a morning and evening routine that works for you, as a way to signal to your body that it's time to wake up - or wind down - each day.
Everyone will be dealing differently with the stress caused by such a major life change. The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand is highlighting the importance of staying in touch with whānau and friends7. An enjoyable way to stay connected is by planning your meals in advance, and by making it a fun family activity by having each person choose a dinner one night a week. Planning your week around three healthy meals is also a useful way to avoid boredom/stress eating, while helping you save money at the supermarket by avoiding buying unnecessary items.
Hopefully the above has given you some ideas for new meals that you can start making at home. If you want to use all of this information to create a weekly plan, you can download the weekly meal planner template! If you’d prefer a more tailored solution, the nutritionists at Feel Fresh Nutrition have 7-day meal plans based around immunity and non-perishable foods. These plans come with pictures, recipes, and nutritional information. If you want to explore receiving a personalised meal plan for you and your family, check out their website to see their online services and special pricing for online appointments.
Kia Kaha, New Zealand. We will get through this!
- Masterjohn, C. (2020). The Food and Supplement Guide for Coronavirus.
- Rondanelli, M. et al. (2018). Self-Care for Common Colds: The Pivotal Role of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, and Echinacea in Three Main Immune Interactive Clusters (Physical Barriers, Innate and Adaptive Immunity) Involved during an Episode of Common Colds - Practical Advice on Dosages and on the Time to Take These Nutrients/Botanicals in order to Prevent or Treat Common Colds. Hindawi, 2018, 1-36. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/5813095
- Ministry of Health. Vitamin D. https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/food-activity-and-sleep/healthy-eating/vitamin-d
- Wu, D. et al. (2019). Nutritional Modulation of Immune Function: Analysis of Evidence, Mechanisms, and Clinical Relevance. Frontiers in immunology, 9, 3160. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2018.03160
- 5. Jafar, N. et al. (2016). The Effect of Short-Term Hyperglycemia on the Innate Immune System. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 351(2), 201 - 211. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjms.2015.11.011
- Besedovsky, L. et al. (2012). Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Archiv : European journal of physiology, 463(1), 121–137. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
- Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. Looking after mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19. https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/covid-19/