Can certain foods boost our immunity?
In this ambiguous and nerve-wracking time, the spread of coronavirus is causing us to seek out ways we can protect ourselves. People want answers, especially ones that seem ‘simple’ to implement, such as what we eat or drink. As such, nutrition has been the focus of many social media posts, blogs and news articles boasting ‘immunity-boosting’ remedies. Drinking celery juice, taking shots of apple cider vinegar and holding water in the mouth for a specified number of seconds are just some of the misconceptions we’ve seen flying around.
The truth is though, there are no single miracle foods or drinks that can ‘boost’ immunity. Instead, immunity is based on many complex processes and factors, many of which are outside of our immediate control. Of course, nutrition plays a role in our health, but rather than choosing to add in or cut out specific foods, food groups or drinks, a better approach is to consider whether our diets are providing us with all the right nutrients we need for overall optimal health.
How do we build a balanced meal at home?
With less reliance on restaurants and ready meals (depending on what’s left in our local supermarkets!), many people may find themselves needing to cook more frequently than they might be used to. A balanced diet is generally one that contains the following, so try to contain these foods in each meal you make where possible:
•Wholegrain starchy and fibrous carbohydrates
•Lean forms of protein in the form of meat, oily fish, eggs and plant-based options such as beans, pulses, nuts, etc.
•Lots of fruit and vegetables
•Moderate amounts of dairy and fortified plant-based dairy alternatives
•Small amounts of unsaturated fats such as olive oil
•Its also a good idea to take daily 10 microgram (µg) vitamin D supplements in the autumn and winter months (and especially now that many people are self-isolating), since we rely primarily on the sun for this and cannot always get enough.
Even with this advice though, please remember that everyone is unique and perfection doesn’t exist; now certainly is not a time to be adding extra stress to ourselves by worrying that we aren’t getting it exactly right!
How can we relieve the pressure on our food system?
Given the scarcity of food in certain supermarkets and a growing panic surrounding food supply, now is an opportunity to consider how we can reduce food waste. Tons of food is wasted every year with the majority coming directly from households, so let’s do our bit to use up as much food we have at home as possible! Things like frozen bags of fruit and veg, tinned beans, vegetables and fruit, and dried items like rice and pasta are all staple, versatile items that last ages and therefore are great items to buy in times where food shopping might become less frequent.
Here a few more tips for making the most of your food at home:
•Go through the dates on your perishable goods (meat, dairy, eggs, fruit, vegetables, etc.) and take note of when they expire. If you plan on definitely using them before the expiry date, great. If not, make sure to freeze them so they don’t get wasted. For things that come in multiples, for example chicken breasts, try storing them individually as opposed to in large packs so that you can just defrost each one as and when you need it.
•Make a meal plan for the week ahead and stick to it. That way you’ll ensure to use up what you have available as opposed to making impulsive decisions that may not be the most efficient way of preserving food.
•Keep all leftovers, no matter how small. Leftovers can always get thrown into something! Leftovers from just two or three meals often makes up one whole meal, you just need to be creative and flexible when it comes to conjuring up meals and snacks.
And what about those who need help with sourcing food in general?
Food banks are particularly struggling right now with the impact of panic-buying, since there is less food available for people to donate and an increased reluctance from people to donate. Given that food insecurity – defined as inconsistent physical and economic access to food – affects millions of people in the UK, including the likes of nurses and teachers, food banks need our help more than ever. We can donate by dropping items into food bank baskets situated near the exits of most big supermarkets. For more information on how to best support food banks, head to https://www.trusselltrust.org/.
This post was written by, Kelly Fleetwood who is completing her MSc in Human Nutrition, set to become an Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) by the end of 2020. With a former background in advertising and marketing, where she delivered brand and product information to the masses, Kelly is passionate about now being able to use her communication skills to share evidence-based nutrition. Kelly posts about various nutrition-related topics on her Instagram page @kellyinthekitchen, alongside tasty recipes and study tips.
•British Dietetic Association (2020). COVID-19 / Coronavirus - Advice for the General Public. Retrieved from https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/covid-19-corona-virus-advice-for-the-general-public.html
•Public Health England. (2018). The Eatwell Guide: Helping you eat a healthy, balanced diet. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/742750/Eatwell_Guide_booklet_2018v4.pdf
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