We are pandemic-weary as we enter our third year with COVID-19. We have more questions than absolute answers. We want this pandemic to go away so we can resume “life as usual,” but we know “life as usual” will likely never return. One beneficial outcome of the pandemic, however, is that we are taking greater responsibility for our health, which includes paying more attention to our lifestyle choices. Daily we are exposed to information about comorbidities such as obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, and lack of sleep that put our health at greater risk.
Studies indicate we are now focusing on health and immunity on an individual basis, in our personal kitchens and not just at the corporate level. We want nutrient–dense foods, increased plant-based eating, and foods that will help us build a strong immune system. Eating to boost a strong immune system will strengthen our body’s natural defenses and help us fight harmful pathogens and disease-causing organisms. We are finally embracing food as medicine to help prevent and fight disease. Nutrition has moved to the forefront in our quest for good health.
Important terms to understand:
Immunity: The ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific antibodies or white blood cells.
Immune System: A complex network of cells, tissues, and organs which together help the body fight infections and diseases.
Inflammation: Part of the biological response of body tissue to harmful infections, injuries, and toxins.
Free Radicals: Unstable atoms in our body that can damage cells, causing illness and aging.
Antioxidants: Substances such as vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, selenium and zinc that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Gut Microbiome: The collection of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses and fungi found within the gut. Trillions of these microbes exist inside your intestines serving very important functions. The gut microbiome affects digestion of food, immune system, central nervous system and other bodily processes.
Probiotics: A combination of live beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts that naturally live in your body. You have a combination of good and bad bacteria in your body constantly. Probiotics are part of your gut microbiome.
Prebiotics: Specialized plant fibers that act like fertilizer for the growth of probiotics, healthy bacteria in your gut.
Pathogen: A bacteria, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.
Let’s Get Started on a Strong Defense!
Focus on what to add, not take away.
- EAT MORE WHOLE PLANT FOODS: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. The antioxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by combatting free radicals that can damage cells causing diseases. Fiber in plant foods feeds your gut microbiome. A robust gut microbiome can improve your immunity.
- EAT MORE HEALTHY FATS: Healthy fats may boost your body’s immune response to pathogens. Olive oil, avocados, walnuts, almonds, nut and seed butters, olives, chia seeds, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and flaxseeds are good sources of healthy fats.
- EAT MORE FERMENTED FOODS OR CONSIDER A PROBIOTIC: Fermented foods are rich sources of good bacteria called probiotics that live in your gut microbiome. Research reveals the importance of a healthy gut microbiome because it plays an important role in fine tuning your immune system to fight diseases. Sources of fermented foods include yogurt, kefir (a yogurt-like drink), Kombucha (a fizzy fermented tea), kimchi (Korean pickled vegetables), sauerkraut, pickles (look for the words “naturally fermented” on the label — generally found in the refrigerator section of your supermarket), and fermented soybeans (found in natto, tempeh, and miso).
Finally, keep in mind that gut health and immunity are deeply interconnected. Your gut and immune system support one another to promote a healthy body and fight against disease. Nutrition is your ally to promote gut health, build a robust gut microbiota, and reinforce a strong immune system.