It’s hard to believe that we have been collectively fighting COVID-19 for an entire year. It’s safe to say that this pandemic has exhausted us. Fortunately we’ve made it to the point where vaccines are being distributed and we are gradually heading in the right direction. With that said, our fight is far from over. We need to continue to do our part by wearing masks, social distancing, and washing our hands thoroughly. We also need to take care of ourselves, both in terms of mental and physical health. As a dietitian, I’m intrigued by the role that nutrition plays in relation to COVID. Does a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet have a significant impact in staving off the virus? Let’s dive into the research.
Nutrition and the Immune System
First and foremost it should be noted that the daily stress we have been experiencing in regards to COVID can wear down the immune system. We need a strong immune system in order to preserve our overall health. Nutrition is linked to immunity and to the risk and severity of infections. Those who are inadequately nourished are at an increased risk of various bacterial and viral infections. This means it is critical for us to monitor our diet and nutritional status throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
You might be wondering, which foods play a role in strengthening the immune system? Foods that are rich in certain vitamins and minerals, namely vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc, may have effects on how the immune system works to fight off infections, in addition to inflammation and swelling. Citrus fruits and dark leafy greens are good sources of vitamin C. You can get vitamin D from milk, fortified milk alternatives, salmon, and egg yolks. Zinc is found in lean meat, seafood, legumes, nuts, and seeds. From a bioavailability standpoint, the best way to consume these nutrients is through food. With that being said, older adults are typically deficient in these micronutrients and therefore could benefit from supplementation. If you’re interested in taking vitamins or dietary supplements, be sure to talk with a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider.
The Importance of Water
Now that we have discussed the foods that you should incorporate into your diet, let’s move on to the topic of hydration. Water is the best beverage choice. It transports nutrients and compounds in blood, regulates body temperature, lubricates and cushions joints, and helps to get rid of waste. It’s recommended that adults drink 8-10 cups of water per day. This may seem daunting for some of us. If you don’t consume much water at the moment, try gradually increasing your intake day by day. Another helpful tip is to add fruits and herbs to your water to give it some added flavor and sweetness.
So, what’s the bottom line here? Not too surprisingly, it’s important now more than ever to eat a balanced diet that’s rich in a variety of nutrients. You can think of eating well as a form of self care. We need to prioritize taking care of our bodies in order to stay physically well. Feel free to explore my blog and Instagram page to get some healthy recipe inspiration. And most importantly, stay positive and test negative!