Having a strong immune system during the current COVID-19 pandemic seems to be on everyone’s mind. While proper hand-washing and social distancing are the best ways to decrease the spread of the virus, having a whole foods diet low in processed foods is one way to support your immune system.
Research shows that 70% of your immune system resides in your gut, and a great way to support your gut and immune system is to eat foods high in fiber, vitamin A, C and zinc.
Fiber provides nutrients for the gut to flourish. Eating foods high in fiber can help reduce inflammation. Fiber is mainly found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Current recommendations require 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men, or about 4-5 cups a day. High-fiber foods that you are likely to find in your pantry include oats, beans and lentils.
Vitamin A promotes cell turnover and supports the immune system. It protects the body from infections by keeping the skin and tissues in the digestive and respiratory tract healthy. Foods your pantry that contain vitamin A include sweet potatoes and carrots. One whole sweet potato or a half cup of carrots provides more than 100% of your daily recommendation of vitamin A.
Vitamin C not only is a powerful antioxidant, but also important in the synthesis of collagen for healthy skin. A half cup of bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries provides more than 80% of your daily recommendation of vitamin C. If you cannot find fresh fruits and vegetables in the store at this time, getting it frozen is just as nutritious. Please note vitamin C does not prevent a cold or flu. It only slightly reduces the length and severity, if you’ve started consuming it regularly before falling sick.
Zinc helps the immune system work properly, protects against oxidative stress and helps with skin wound healing. Foods that are high in zinc include beef, beans and certain cereals.
Foods in your pantry that contain zinc include breakfast fortified cereals and baked beans.
Vitamin D has been shown to help prevent upper respiratory infections and is involved in many immune and inflammatory functions within the body. The new daily recommendation for vitamin D is 800 IU. Aside from being outside, vitamin D can be obtained from fatty fish and mushrooms. Mushrooms are foods that you are likely to find in your pantry that contain vitamin D.
Overall, taking a whole food first approach with adequate fiber and the micronutrients above will bolster a good immune system. Many of the foods mentioned can either be kept in the pantry or be kept frozen for three months and still retain freshness and quality.
Here are some of my favorite recipes!
- 3 cups rolled oats
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ cup melted coconut oil
- ⅔ cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit
- 1 cup nuts or seeds of choice
Mix ingredients and spread in a thin layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes at 350° F, stirring every 7 to 8 minutes. Store in an airtight container. Yields about eight servings.
This macronutrient-dense snack provides an excellent balance of fiber, protein, fat and fruit for long-lasting energy, says Chowdhury.
Coconut Milk Chia Pudding
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- ½ cup coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon full fat coconut cream
- 1 tablespoon agave
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Sliced strawberries and flaked coconut
Mix the first five ingredients and refrigerate overnight to thicken. Top with sliced strawberries and flaked coconut. Yields one serving.
This fiber-rich, gluten- and dairy-free snack delivers a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, an anti-inflammatory compound also found in salmon and other fatty fish.
Creamy Roasted Garlic & Kale Soup with Cauliflower
- 12 garlic (cloves, peeled and trimmed)
- 1 yellow onion (large, roughly chopped)
- 4 cups frozen cauliflower (florets)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
- 1 1/3 tablespoons of Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 8 cups of kale leaves (packed frozen)
- 3 3/4 cups of organic vegetable broth (divided)
Preheat oven to 400ºF (204ºC) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the garlic cloves, onion and cauliflower on the baking sheet. Drizzle with half of the olive oil, Italian seasoning and salt. Using your hand or a spatula, toss until vegetables are evenly coated in the spices. Roast for about 40 minutes or until very tender and caramelized, flipping halfway through.
When vegetables are just about done, heat remaining olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the kale and 1/2 of the vegetable broth to the pot and cover. Let steam for 2 minutes, or until kale is wilted and tender. Add the roasted vegetables and remaining vegetable stock in with the wilted kale. Bring soup to a gentle boil then remove from heat. Puree soup in batches in a high-speed blender until smooth and creamy. Divide into bowls and enjoy!
Rainbow Chopped Salad Jars
- 1/2 cup of sunflower seed butter
- 2 2/3 lemon (juiced)
- 2/3 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 2/3 tablespoons of water
- 4 cups of chickpeas (cooked, from the can)
- 1 1/3 cups of cherry tomatoes
- 1 1/3 cups of matchstick carrots
- 1 1/3 yellow bell pepper (chopped)
- 4 cups of purple cabbage (chopped)
Combine the sunflower seed butter, lemon juice, and sea salt. Whisk until combined, adding water as needed to attain a creamy salad dressing consistency. Divide the dressing equally into the bottom of large jars.
On top of the dressing, layer the chickpeas, tomatoes, carrots, bell pepper, and top with the purple cabbage. Cover and store in the fridge. When you’re ready to eat the salad, dump it into a bowl and toss well. Enjoy!
Black Bean Chili Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- 4 sweet potatoes (medium size)
- 1 tablespoon organic vegetable broth
- 1 yellow onion (chopped)
- 1 yellow bell pepper (chopped)
- 2 garlic (clove, minced)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of chili powder
- 1 teaspoon of oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
- 1 3/4 cups of black beans (cooked, drained, rinsed)
- 3/4 cup of tomato sauce
- 1/3 cup of water
- 1/4 cup of cilantro (chopped)
Preheat the oven to 400ºF (204ºC) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Poke a few fork holes in the sweet potatoes and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until cooked through.
While the potatoes cook, in a medium-sized pot over medium heat, add the vegetable broth. Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, or until cooked through. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Then add the chili powder, oregano and cumin. Stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low. Add the black beans, tomato sauce and water and cook for 6 to 8 minutes.
Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven. Slice each one down the center and stuff with the black bean chili. Top with cilantro. Serve and enjoy!
Learn more about supporting your health with diet at Virtual Eczema Expo.
Rakhi Roy Chowdhury holds a Master’s degree in Dietetics & Nutrition and is currently a corporate wellness and consultant clinical dietitian. She also advises at the Florida Department of Health and provides tele-health counseling in weight management, digestive and skin disorders such as IBS and eczema in private practice.