Broccoli and oranges have been flying off the shelves as people panic buy immune-boosting foods in the hope of warding off Covid-19. But do these foods really play a significant role in improving our body’s ability to fight illness? And what other foods and activities can we introduce to help in the fight? We chat to director of Nutrition and Food Science at University of South Australia, Professor Evangeline Mantzioris, for some top tips.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is key. Broccoli and oranges are good, but there are many nutrients that impact on different aspects of our immune system, and these nutrients are derived from a wide range of foods. “There is no evidence that one single nutrient or food will improve your immune system,” says Professor Mantzioris, rather “it is the whole diet that needs to be improved”.
Some of the beneficial nutrients that our bodies need to stay healthy include Vitamin B6 (found in cereals, legumes and green leafy vegetables), Vitamin C (found in citrus fruit, tomatoes, kiwi and capsicum) and Vitamin D (90 per cent of which comes from sunlight). “The list is quite long and the reality is that almost all nutrients have some involvement in the immune system.”
So, the take-away from this is that it’s important to include as much variety in your diet as possible and this means eating a combination of fruit, vegetables (including herbs and spices), cereals and grains, protein (from meat or plant sources) and dairy. “Dairy can come from plant substitutes but be sure they are fortified with calcium and Vitamin B12 – you must read the label!”
Regular moderate exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on the immune system, although Professor Mantzioris warns that now is probably not the time to be increasing your exercise levels. “Increasing exercise levels will increase the demand on your nutrient and energy requirements, which may otherwise be used to maintain a healthy body, including your immune system.” Instead, during self-isolation Professor Mantzioris suggests trying to maintain your current level of activity by finding replacement activities around the home.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
“Adequate sleep is critical to our health and immune system,” says Professor Mantzioris. Of course, this is sometimes much easier said than done, particularly for those who are experiencing stress-related insomnia. Mindfulness exercises such as meditation can help here, as can putting down screens at least two hours before bedtime and relaxing in a warm bath prior to lights out.