Thursday, December 3

Top 5 Ways to Support Your Immune System


The global pandemic has stripped daily life down to the essentials, and we find ourselves under lockdown restrictions that are unlike anything we have known before. As it grows ever clearer that the threat of Covid-19 will be with us for quite some time and restrictions will be ongoing, optimising our family’s health now is top of mind for many.

While you’re home for an extended period of time, there’s no better opportunity to shift into healthy habits like cooking nutritious meals, making healthy snacks and drinks available in the home, and being physically active on a daily basis. While you cannot ‘boost’ your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you from contracting COVID-19, eating a balanced diet plays an important role in maintaining health and supporting the immune system, as well as all the body’s vital systems.

A healthy, balanced diet is the best immune support

Wonderbag Eco Cooker

While the media and social media is rife with misinformation around food and nutrition that is not evidence-based, now is the time to educate yourself and stick to medically proven advice given by doctors and medical experts. “If it’s not already a focus of family life, this is actually an ideal time to prioritise nutrition and health,” says Retha Harmse, a Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa).

There are, however, many nutrients involved with the normal functioning of the immune system. This is why maintaining a healthy balanced diet made up of different foods that provide a spectrum of nutrients that include copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D is the very best way to support immune function. “In addition to a healthy balanced diet, a generally healthy lifestyle is also important to support your immune system,” says Retha, “This means not smoking, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep and very importantly, minimising stress, which is very intense at this time.”

How do we achieve a balanced diet for optimum immune support?

A well-balanced, healthy diet will provide you with all the nutrients you require to support immune functioning. The best way to do this is to go back to the basics of good nutrition. Here, ADSA takes the South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines and shows where you can make some creative adjustments to fit the lockdown restrictions you might experience:

1. Enjoy a variety of foods


Although certain foods might be a bit harder to come by, don’t fall in the trap of eating only certain foods. Variety also means including foods from two or more food groups at each meal.

2. Be active


Regular, moderate exercise is very beneficial for getting outdoors (if you can), stress relief and improved immune function. You don’t need big spaces for cardiovascular exercise. Try running up and down stairs or skipping for an easy cardio workout without having to leave the house. If you’re after something with more variety you can download one of the many free exercise apps or watch YouTube videos for daily workouts. If you have an outdoor area ta home you can also play physical games such as handball, bat and ball, mini-cricket or mini-soccer as a family or couple, combining fun, bonding and exercise.

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3. Make starchy foods part of most meals


Choose whole grain, unrefined foods to add more fibre, vitamins and minerals to your diet. Good options to choose are whole-wheat pasta, multigrain Provitas or cracker breads, sweet potato, brown rice and bulgur wheat. Combine whole grains with other tasty, nutritious foods in mixed dishes.

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4. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day


This can be challenging while we are under lockdown and want to avoid frequent shopping. To help your fruit and vegetables stay fresher for longer, choose fresh, whole fruit that is naturally longer lasting such as apples, pineapple and citrus fruits. Try to eat fruits as snacks and desserts or add sliced fruit or dried fruit to your cereal, muesli or yoghurt in the morning to increase your fruit intake.

As some fresh vegetables don’t last long, blanche or cook them on the day of purchase and then freeze for later use. Or buy frozen or canned vegetables. Root and bulb veg options such as carrots and turnips, onions, garlic and ginger are longer lasting.

5. Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly


Dried legumes are not only good substitutes for meat, fish, eggs or cheese, but can also be used as affordable ‘meat extenders’ to make meals go further. If you use canned legumes rinse them well after they have been drained to reduce the sodium content. Mash and heat up tinned cannelloni beans as the creamy base for a pasta sauce and save money by making your own hummus from canned chickpeas. For a sweet treat, peanut butter can be used as a sandwich filling and can be stirred into porridge as well.

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6. Have milk, maas or yoghurt every day


Maas and yoghurt will last longer in the fridge than fresh milk. For more long-term milk options buy long-life milk, skim milk powder or evaporated milk. Fresh dairy products can also be frozen. Eat yoghurt, with added fruit, as a snack between meals instead of a packet of chips as this contributes to the day’s nutrient intake and does not contain excess fat and salt.

7. Fish, chicken, lean meat or eggs can be eaten daily

Spatchcock chicken

Stock up on tinned fish options such as tuna, pilchards, sardines. For an easy way to use up vegetables that might spoil soon, combine with eggs to make a Quiché for dinner or an omelette for breakfast. These options are an easy, tasty, and nutritious option.

8. Drink lots of clean, safe water


This is perhaps the easiest time to get into the habit of drinking enough water because you are confined to one space. If water is readily available during the day, it increases consumption. Keep a water bottle on hand or a jug nearby.

9. Use fats sparingly


Choose vegetable oils rather than hard fats, and always use only a little, as fats are high in energy but provide relatively few nutrients.

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Even for those who are still earning under the lockdown restrictions, the economic downturn is going to have an impact on the vast majority of South African households. Now is as important a time as any to get your household food budget under control, as this can relieve some financial stress. Prioritise nutrient-dense foods that you know your family enjoys, and limit your purchases of treats, drinks and snacks that are high in calories but low in nutrients. Meal planning, and keeping dishes simple yet nutritious, helps to reduce your food waste and gives you the peace of mind that you’re doing the best you can so that your family can maintain their health.


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