While social distancing and proper handwashing remain the primary means to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there may also be a role for including foods naturally high in zinc and Vitamin C to support your immune system and help prevent illness.
Dr. Kristi Artz, medical director for Spectrum Health’s Lifestyle Medicine program, showed viewers how to incorporate many immune-boosting foods into their diet during the pandemic.
In general, immune function declines as we age. The risk of severe infection with COVID-19 trends with increasing age and pre-existing chronic illness. A poor diet, characterized by high intake of processed foods and meats with low intake of whole plant foods, is a prime risk factor for chronic disease and is the defining features of the Standard American Diet, or the SAD.
The SAD also creates deficiencies in micronutrients which are essential vitamins and minerals necessary for proper immune function to prevent both acute and chronic illnesses. Eating a variety of whole plant foods provides our bodies with protective micronutrients, including zinc and Vitamin C.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin and acts as a strong antioxidant, meaning it clears inflammation. This systematic review found Vitamin C may be effective in reducing respiratory illness with little to no side effects.
Optimal whole food sources of Vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
Zinc is an essential mineral and cofactor in enzyme reactions that support proper immune response. This meta-analysis showed that patients had a more rapid recovery from respiratory illness when treated with zinc supplementation.
Rather than taking supplements, try increasing your intake of zinc-rich foods like:
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
Dr. Kristi shared Spectrum Health Culinary Medicine recipes for “Herbed Quinoa and Chickpea Salad” as well as “Sesame Ginger Broccoli” both of which are delicious and packed with healthy micronutrients, including zinc and Vitamin C.
As a special bonus,here’s the simple recipe for “Dr. Kristi’s Health Elixir.”
To a blender, add:
- One whole peeled grapefruit or orange
- ¼ inch peeled gingerroot
- ¼ - ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ cup water
- If desired, for sweetness add ½ tsp honey or maple syrup or pitted date; for heat, add pinch of cayenne pepper
To keep your diet on track during these challenging times, sign up for one of Spectrum Health's virtual Culinary Medicine plant-based classes or consider joining our 6-week virtual Daily Dozen series.