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  • Laren Rusin

The Pandemic Diet

Key nutritional advice for this time...

During this pandemic/shelter-at-home scary time, we’ve all been inundated with information online, whether truthful or stretching the truth. I’m incredibly hesitant to take advantage of anything pandemic-related, but have been asked enough questions about nutritional support that I figured I’d write something based on research and science. This is advice I follow regularly. How to eat to support decreased inflammation and to support your immune system? These would be my key pieces of advice:

-Avoid sugars and poor-quality fats. These can be very inflammatory. An easy way to do this: don’t buy processed foods. Focus on getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet either in plant or fish form. I know everyone is baking right now because it’s comforting and we have the time, but choose your sugars wisely, try for fruits or natural sweeteners, or just cut down on the amount of sweetener.

-Focus on key nutrients that your immune system needs to function optimally (that are supported by research). Ideally you eat a varied diet full of vegetables and some fruit, some good proteins and fats. I’m not going to talk about supplementation right now (no one has anything in stock any way!) but there are good foods to hunt down in the store. Look for foods with these vitamins and minerals:

-Vitamin A: an antioxidant that’s important in cellular immune response. It’s found in orange and yellow veggies (bell peppers, sweet potato, carrots, mango, dark leafy greens, and broccoli.

-Vitamin C: well-known and found in so many fruits and vegetables. You can think outside citrus, though it’s just at the end of its season now, and look for red peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, green bell peppers, strawberries, and brussels sprouts! You don’t have to mega-dose: getting 100-200mg a day from food can help prevent respiratory infections.

-Vitamin E: another antioxidant that supports immune function and helps decrease severity of respiratory infections. Many Standard American Diets are deficient in vitamin E: look to boost your intake of nuts and seeds, pumpkin, and sweet potato (and yes, dark leafy greens!).

-Zinc: the first supplement to fly off the shelves at the beginning of the pandemic. There is some suggestion that zinc helps in treatment of the novel coronavirus, which is probably why people were stocking up on the supplement. Even mild zinc deficiency can impair immune function. Find zinc in nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and meat. This is another mineral that tends to be lacking in the SAD, so look to boost intake by sprinkling seeds on your salad, adding nuts to baked goods, and going whole grain always!

-Selenium: another mineral that tends to be lacking in our diet, and has been depleted from the soils in this country. It’s also essential for thyroid function, in addition to being a mineral antioxidant that helps with immune function. Brazil nuts from certain areas are very high in selenium (do your research, and be careful as you can overdo it with selenium!), and sardines are a great, safe source as well.

-Mushrooms-very supportive of immune function, especially Asian mushrooms. Change up the mushrooms you sautee with eggs or in stir fries, look for mushroom coffees and teas… shitake, maitake, lion’s mane… can have wonderful taste and immune support.

The good news is that many of these food items are easy to store, easy to source, and not expensive. If you need ideas for how to prepare foods, recipes, or anything else, please reach out! I’m happy to share recipes, ingredient ideas, or help you craft a plan for success (or sanity 😉). And do I resort to baking and comfort food like anyone else these days? Sure. And there's nothing wrong with that if your baseline is healthy!

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