Never a Better Time to Boost Your Immune System

At the writing of this article, more than 277,000 cases of Covid-19 have been reported here in the United States and the number is rising rapidly each day. Most of us are staying home to save lives and to “flatten the curve.”

At this time many in the collective are feeling the effects, feeling the fear, feeling disempowered; even powerless. We are looking to the government, the news stations, social media, and supplements, but how many of us are looking at our plate?

I have been hearing stories of younger populations with no known underlying health conditions contracting the more severe form of the virus requiring hospitalization, even depending on respirators to breathe.

What if we are overlooking something right under our nose? Is it possible that the standard American diet may be creating an underlying health condition that is leaving millions at higher risk?

Only 11% of Americans get the recommended 3 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. That means 89% or 293,000,000 Americans do not.

Is it possible that produce deficiency and over-consumption of processed and animal foods is an under-considered factor in COVID-19?

We’ve all heard the Hippocrates quote “Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Let Medicine Be Thy Food.”  In light of the pandemic, we might want to consider what this really means.

Here’s how food becomes medicinal.

(The information below was sourced verbatim from The Physicians Committee)

 Vitamins, Minerals, and Antioxidants

Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables provide nutrients—like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E—that can boost immune function. Because many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are also rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress.

Beta-Carotene: Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce inflammation and boost immune function by increasing disease-fighting cells in the body. Excellent sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamins C and E: Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that help to destroy free radicals and support the body’s natural immune response. Sources of vitamin C include red peppers, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, mangoes, lemons, and other fruits and vegetables. Vitamin E sources include nuts, seeds, spinach, and broccoli.

Vitamin D: Research shows vitamin D supplementation may reduce the risk for viral infections, including respiratory tract infections, by reducing production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body. Increased vitamin D in the blood has been linked to prevention of other chronic diseases including tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cardiovascular disease. Food sources of vitamin D include fortified cereals and plant-based milks and supplements.

Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that can help boost white blood cells, which defend against invaders. Sources include nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, beans, and lentils.

According to the Physicians Committee, the immune system is dependent upon white blood cells to produce antibodies that combat bacteria, viruses, and other invaders. Those eating a predominantly plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables have been shown to have more potent white blood cells due to a high intake of vitamins, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.

Eating a low-fat diet may also be protective. Studies have shown that limiting dietary fat helps to strengthen immune defenses. Research also shows that oil may impair white blood cell function and that high-fat diets may alter gut microbiota that aid in immunity.

Obesity is another factor linked to increased risk for influenza and other infections. Plant-based diets help maintain a healthy weight because they are rich in fiber, which helps fill you up, without adding extra calories. Fiber can also lower BMI, which is linked to improved immunity.

While there is no guarantee that a whole food plant-based diet will protect you from contracting COVID-19, eating a variety of immune-boosting foods daily while minimizing or avoiding animal foods and processed foods will arm your defenses.

Chickpea Salad with Orange Miso Dressing – Recipe and picture credit Physicians Committee

This dish is usually one of the most popular recipes in the Food For Life Kickstart series. People love the refreshing flavors and how good it makes them feel. Plus, it’s beautiful in presentation and looks great on a buffet table.

 Ingredients

Makes 2 Servings

  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • ½ cup dry quinoa
  • 1 ½ cups or 1 can low-sodium garbanzo beans (chickpeas), cooked or canned and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoon fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 2 fresh oranges juice or 1/4 cup
  • ¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoon white or yellow miso
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or agave nectar
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or minced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, grated or minced
  • 2 teaspoon black sesame seeds

Directions

To make quinoa, place ½ cup dry quinoa in 1 cup water in a 1-½ quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). You will know that the quinoa is done when all the grains have turned from white to transparent, and the spiral-like germ has separated. Wait for it to cool to add to the recipe. You could also substitute 1 cup of frozen, thawed quinoa for a pre-cooked option.

  1. Combine the tomatoes, onions, cooked quinoa, garbanzo beans, and fresh cilantro in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, thoroughly whisk the orange juice, rice vinegar, miso, maple syrup or agave nectar, garlic, ginger, and sesame seeds to make the dressing.
  3. Pour the dressing into the larger bowl and toss all of the salad ingredients together.

Plant-Powered Pizza- Photo credit Betsy Bruns

Plant-based eating has entered the mainstream and restaurants have taken notice. Dishes that we traditionally view as indulgences can be made to deliver on nutrition.

Take pizza for example. It’s one of my favorite treats when ordering out. I find most pizza places are able to make a pie plant-powered.

If possible, opt for a gut-friendly whole wheat or sourdough crust. Make sure there is no hidden dairy. You might request extra sauce and a variety of veggies such as mushrooms, onion, garlic, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and broccoli. Skip the cheese and meat of course.

Your pizza will not only taste delicious and fresh, but you also won’t feel weighed down and your immune system will be energized.

* Recipe and photo credit: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)

Contributing Writer: Betsy Bruns

Betsy Bruns is a plant-based health coach, “Food for Life” instructor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) tapping practitioner. When she isn’t making healing food taste like comfort food or helping clients tap away stress & cravings with EFT, she’s cuddling her one-eared French bulldog, Van Gogh. Visit www.Vegsetter.com