Dr Eva Lewis, Head of Food Innovation with agri nutrition specialists Devenish, has outlined some simple tips and guidance around eating well while staying home.
Her ‘back to basics’ approach to food outlines that people don’t have to buy into fads, trends or special diets and how we, by planning ahead of our grocery shop or cooking, can help give our bodies the nutrients they need.
“Firstly, it must be clear that there is no type of food or supplement that will prevent us from contracting a highly infectious virus like Covid-19; nor is this a good time to start a radical new diet or introduce more stress by over-analysing what you eat,” comments Dr Lewis.
“Knowing you are giving your body the best chance at maintaining good health through nutrition is always a good idea – and it is something that can help you feel some control during a time when there are lots of things outside our control.
“Food is here to be enjoyed and brings a lot of comfort, so really the focus should be on making good choices and perhaps reminding yourself of the basics of nutrition when you are picking up your essential groceries for your home.
“There are some simple ways you can help yourself and your family get the nutrients your bodies need – which in turn can help your physical and mental wellbeing, setting you up to best cope with the circumstances we’re in.
“When planning your shopping list, it’s good to think ‘back to basics’ – in other words, the most simple and original source of nutrients such as milk, meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and nuts and seeds, are often those that are most easily absorbed and used by the body.
“It isn’t necessary to always seek out products with added nutrients, as these aren’t always as easily absorbed by the body and may indeed be more expensive.
“Your immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that helps defend the body against infection.
“By eating food with a wide range of nutrients, you can best support the normal function of your immune system.
“Think about ‘eating a rainbow’ – lots of colourful foods that are packed full of different nutrients, will do you a lot of good.
“It’s nice to encourage children particularly to ‘eat a rainbow’ – good habits start young, although you’re never too old to start eating well!
“Keep an eye out for high sugar and salt levels in processed foods – diets high in salt and sugar are amongst the biggest causes of ill-health worldwide.
“It is important to point out that everything should be eaten in moderation and if you have any special dietary or health requirements you should always consult your doctor.”
Here is a simple overview of the main nutrients your body needs to help keep your immune system in good working order – and where to find them in your food.
Omega-3 fatty acids: in particular EPA and DHA, which play an important role in supporting the immune system, for example by helping to resolve inflammation and support healing.
Found in: oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring or trout; omega-3 enriched eggs.
Vitamin A: plays an important role in supporting T Cells, a type of white blood cell that help identify pathogens like viruses or infectious bacteria.
Found in: whole milk and cheese, liver, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, some orange-coloured fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin B6: helps produce new immune cells, helps process antibodies and helps immune cells to communicate.
Found in: poultry and fish, beef, pork, lamb, egg yolks, some fruit and vegetables like banana, avocado and green pepper, yeast extract, soya beans, sesame seeds.
Vitamin B12: important in producing new immune cells
Found in: meat (beef, pork and lamb), milk, cheese, fish and eggs.
Vitamin C: helps immune cells attack pathogens, enables us to clear away old immune cells from the site of infection, and helps maintain the skin, our external barrier to infection.
Found in: Citrus fruits, green vegetables, peppers and tomatoes.
Copper: helps protect and fuel immune cells.
Found in: fish, shellfish, liver, wholemeal bread, wholegrain breakfast cereals, rice, quinoa, pulses, avocado, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin D: A low status of vitamin D is associated with reduced immune response. Our main source of vitamin D is from sunlight on our skin but as people are currently spending more time indoors, try ‘topping up’ your levels from food.
Found in: oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring or trout, eggs.
Folate: plays an important role in producing new immune cells.
Found in: green vegetables, pulses, oranges, berries, nuts and seeds, bread.
Iron: helps maintain the health of immune cells, iron has a variety of meat and vegetable sources.
Found in: red meat, some types of fish, leafy greens.
Selenium: vital for producing new immune cells and can help strengthen response to infection.
Found in: poultry, pork, fish, shellfish, eggs, offal, nuts and seeds, particularly Brazil nuts, cashews and sunflower seeds.
Zinc: helps produce new immune cells, helps develop ‘natural killer cells’ that fight off viruses and supports communication between immune cells.
Found in: meat (beef, pork, lamb) and poultry, cheese and wholegrains.
Wondering about supplements?
Try, where you can, to find your nutrients as much as possible from food. But if you feel you are not able to get all the nutrients your body needs from food, a multivitamin supplement could be considered.
It is always wise to consult your doctor or a qualified nutritionist before commencing any supplement use, particularly if you believe you may have a specific deficiency.
Think ‘back to basics’ and eat a rainbow – by starting to make good choices now, you can develop a habit that lasts a lifetime.
Devenish is an agri technology company that specialises in optimising nutrient use throughout the food and farming chain.
n Dr Eva Lewis leads Devenish’s Food Innovation team.