What To Eat To Stay Healthy During the Pandemic

By Holly Bieler
Updated on 20. Jul. 2020
Photo by Anna Shvets.
Photo by Anna Shvets.
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While there is no silver bullet when it comes to lowering your chances of contracting the coronavirus, there are certain precautions most of us can take every day to help minimize the risk, from washing our hands whenever we leave our home to wearing protective gear like masks and gloves.

Nutrition during the pandemic should be understood in the same way: while there is no magical ingredient that will greatly lower your chances of contracting the virus, eating certain foods and maintaining certain practices in your daily diet can make it easier for your body to fight off disease, and thus lower your chances of getting sick.

What Should I Eat To Stay Healthy?

While no research has been done on whether certain foods may decrease your chances of contracting covid 19, past studies have shown that specific ingredients can help maintain a healthy immune system, thus making it easier for your body to combat contagious viruses. 

Get Plenty of Vitamin C

Treating a cold with a glass of orange juice might seem like folk medicine, but it’s actually based in more science than you might have guessed. Vitamin C, found in high concentrations in certain vegetables and citrus fruits, plays a significant role in keeping your immune system healthy in more ways than one. It helps the body produce white blood cells, which make up the foundation of the immune system, producing the antibodies which are used to combat invading viruses. Vitamin C also helps those white blood cells do their job more effectively and inhibits damage against them through free radicals in the body.  

Oranges are the most well-known vitamin C supplier, however a wide variety of other vegetables and fruits are rich in this essential vitamin as well. Throw in a ½ cup of chopped fresh red bell peppers in your morning omelette or snack on a cup of fresh strawberries throughout the day and you’ve already hit more than 100% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C (65-95 milligrams).

Other vitamin C-rich foods include broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwis, papaya, red, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

Feed Your Gut

The symbiotic relationship between our bodies and the bacteria, fungi and yeasts which exist inside and out of it, plays an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system. These microbes, specifically those which inhabit our gut, not only form protective barriers against intruding viruses, but actually program our immune systems to work correctly. In fact, animals who don’t have these populations of bacteria in the body, called ‘microbiomes’, have been shown to have significant weaker immune responses. It only leads that you should keep your microbiome as well-nourished and healthy as possible.

Fiber and fermented foods are among the most nutritious for gut bacteria, or ‘flora’. Try integrating lentils, beans and brussel sprouts into your diet for a punch of fiber, while kimchi, sauerkraut and yogurt are all delicious fermented foods that provide a dose of gut-healthy cultures.

Remember that certain groups, such as the elderly and those suffering from diseases such as allergies, asthma and arthritis, tend to have less vibrant gut microbiomes. If you fall under this category, ensure you’re keeping an eye on the health of your gut, and consequently that of your immune system as well.

Don’t Skimp on Your Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamin C isn’t the only vitamin that helps support a healthy immune system. These vitamins and minerals also play an important role in helping keep up your body’s defenses, and should be integrated into your daily diet:

Antioxidants: Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow down damage to cells caused by free radicals, and are integral in supporting the body’s immune system. Beta-carotenes are among the most powerful antioxidants, and are abundant in vegetables like kale and carrots. Vitamin E, another strong antioxidant, can be found in nuts. When it comes to antioxidants, ensure you’re getting your fix from a diverse range of ingredients. Consuming one source of antioxidants in excess, kale for instance, counteracts its free-radical eliminating properties. 

Zinc: Zinc is another great ingredient for the immune system, boosting virus-defending white blood cells, while helping the immune system regulate immune responses. Chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, lentils and beans are all great sources of zinc.

Vitamin D: Studies have shown that vitamin D can reduce your risk of viral infections by reducing production of proinflammatory compounds in the body.  Fatty fish like salmon and tuna, as well as eggs, milk and cheese are all good sources of vitamin D. 

Drink Up!

It’s always important to stay hydrated, and even more so now. Drinking water helps transport oxygen to your blood cells, among other integral functions, which helps keep your body, including your immune system, working properly. Water also helps your body rid itself of toxins, which can negatively affect your immune system if they’re not expelled. Green tea is another great option, as it packs in antioxidants as well.

Embrace Garlic Breath

Garlic is one of the most widely-consumed foods in the world, and yet many aren’t aware of its medicinal properties. In fact, garlic contains a significant cocktail of compounds and substances that can keep you from getting sick. Its main compound, allicin, has been shown to strengthen immune cells and help combat viruses. In fact, a 2011 study found that participants taking a daily garlic supplement were less likely to catch the common cold, and if they did, tended to recover faster than participants who hadn’t taken the supplement. Garlic also contains antimicrobial and antiviral properties that help fight infection. 

Integrating 2-3 cloves into your daily diet is enough to reap the effects of garlic. If you can, eat the garlic raw. While it’s much less palatable than cooking your garlic into a dish, raw garlic will have a stronger nutritious effect. If you decide to cook the garlic, just ensure you crush it a few minutes before heating, as this will help activate its healthful properties.

Certain ingredients such as garlic, citrus fruits and other leafy fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and minerals which support a healthy immune system. Also make sure to drink plenty of water, which helps to flush out toxins.

Is There Anything I Shouldn’t Eat?

Just as there is no one food that greatly decreases your chances of contracting coronavirus, there is no one food that greatly increases your chances of getting it either. 

This doesn’t mean there is no correlation between food and the coronavirus, however. Poor metabolic health, including diseases associated with high-fat and high-sugar diets such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, are among the biggest risk factors both for contracting covid-19 and suffering adverse symptoms from it, including death. This is because metabolic syndrome has been shown to compromise the immune system and increase the risk of infection. 

If you fall under this category, it’s important to maintain contact with your doctor and potentially discuss ways to decrease these risk factors, including dieting to lose weight or integrating variations in diet to decrease high blood sugar and cholesterol. These won’t incite changes overnight, but over time can help strengthen your immune system and lower your chances of contraction or serious complications.

If you don’t fall under this category, it’s still a good idea to stay clear of refined carbs and sugars. Studies have shown that sugar may impair white blood cell function, which is integral to a healthy immune system, while consistent rises in blood sugar may increase your body’s risk of infection. 

And if you drink alcohol, keep it in moderation. Studies have shown that heavy alcohol consumption may increase susceptibility to infections, particularly in the respiratory system.

Above all, remember that the only thing you definitely should not eat during the pandemic is anything you think might be contaminated. If you suspect your delivery meal or groceries might have been handled by someone who was sick, throw them out.

Stay away from refined sugar and carbs, which could impair white blood cell function, which supports the immune system. Alcohol should also be consumed in moderation.

What Should I Eat if I'm Already Sick?

If you've already contracted the virus, stick to a classic sick-time diet. Ensure you’re drinking plenty of liquids, at least 8 glasses of an 8 oz. glass of water a day. Stick to mild meals that are gentle on your digestive system while also providing necessary nutrients, such as soups with clean broths, grains like brown rice or whole grain crackers, plenty of fruits and vegetables to restore your body’s minerals and vitamin, and lots of clean protein, which will help your body rebuild damaged cells.

Remember to stay away from canned foods as much as you can, which are often packed with preservatives and salt, which can further dehydrate you.

If you're already sick, make sure to drink plenty of liquids as well as clear-broth soups, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lots of clean protein to help your body rebuild damaged cells.

The Bottom Line

There is no one magic ingredient that can protect you from contracting coronavirus. Instead, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet of immune-boosting fresh foods, drink plenty of water, and stay away from foods with processed sugars and fat.

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