Healthy Nutrition: A Key to Building Your Immunity

By Ore Taiwo Makinde. Image credit: freepik.

Healthy nutrition is key to developing a great immunity. Several pointers to what we eat and drink have been raised during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a bit of confusion on what to go for in fortifying our bodies against the raging effects of the COVID-19 disease; nutritional supplementation, a balanced diet or both.

“We are what we eat”

So let us start with the basics. Chronic disease has been around for several decades but over the years, scientific research has generated concrete evidence that we are what we eat.  

Chronic disease majorly encompasses non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels which are also termed lifestyle-related diseases. The World Health Organisation reports that 86% of deaths from chronic, non-communicable disease occur mostly in low and middle-income countries, particularly in Sub-saharan Africa. We have enough evidence to show that certain lifestyle choices can delay the onset and even prevent these diseases.

Over-consumed nutrients

The over-consumption of some nutrients contribute to ill-health and these include salt (sodium), saturated fat found in animal meats, innards and organs. Added sugars found in soft drinks, sweetened cereals, beverages, ice-creams, chocolates, cakes, biscuits and pastries as well as trans-fats found in hydrogenated foods such as fried food and baked goods.

Some of us are raising our eye-brows already, possibly thinking about ‘owambe’ (parties), fun-filled outings and get-togethers where these food items are more or less the order of the day. Can we really live without these foods? Going through this lock-down season actually shows that we can. However, we are talking about their over-consumption here because they increase our risk for obesity and the afore-mentioned lifestyle-related diseases. Consuming these nutrients according to recommendations can help confer some measure of discipline and thus reduce our risk of chronic disease if adhered to. 

Under-consumed nutrients

On the other hand, we also have under-consumed nutrients which are primarily vitamins A, C, D, E, K; calcium, magnesium, potassium and fibre. These under-consumed nutrients are found mostly in plant foods such as vegetables, beans, peas, whole grains, fruits, seeds and nuts. So let’s do a mental check. How often do you consume any of these? It is no wonder that nutritional supplements contain the under-consumed nutrients but not the over-consumed ones.

Choose foods that can boost your immunity

During this pandemic, we should focus on these under-consumed nutrients and look for regular sources because they will help fortify our bodies against disease. These are a few tips to consider when making food choices:

1. Avoid processed foods by doing most of your cooking at home.

2. Avoid frying; prefer boiling, steaming or grilling.

3. Whenever you feel thirsty, drink water first. Avoid calorie-dense drinks which include fizzy drinks or soft drinks. Most of them are addictive. 

4. Eat a rainbow everyday meaning fruits and veggies with a blend of different colours which reflect their content; natural phytonutrients which protect against lifestyle-related diseases.

5. Food groups such as sweet potatoes, carrots, red pepper, tomatoes, beef liver, various fruits, hard-boiled eggs should be consumed regularly.

6. To ensure optimal blood levels of vitamin D, eat foods such as fatty fish e.g salmon and foods fortified with vitamin D such as fortified dairy products, fortified cereals and fortified fruit juices. Vitamin D levels have been observed from several studies to be lowest in those with severe COVID-19. 

7. Get high levels of vitamin E from sunflower oil, almonds, peanut butter, corn oil, spinach and avocado.

8. Avoid adding salt to already cooked foods and supplement its use with other healthy spices such as garlic and turmeric.

In conclusion, eating a wide variety of plant-based foods every day can help you meet up with the daily recommended nutritional requirements. This will fortify your body against both chronic diseases as well as infectious diseases like COVID-19. Elderly persons, individuals with underlying illness and those with a high risk of contracting such diseases e.g health workers should focus primarily on supplements containing the under-consumed nutrients.

Dr Ore Taiwo Makinde is a Consultant Family Physician and certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician.  She is the founder of Lifestyle Champions International.