Countries around the world may be imposing more and more collective measures to guard their people against the novel coronavirus, but what we do individually, especially in terms of upping our own bodies' defenses, is also of vital importance. Meanwhile, having a healthy and balanced diet and eating adequately from all food groups also plays a key role in a strong immune system.
Eating only certain types of food and having a diet that lacks in color, literally, can possibly be the worst thing you can do right now, according to nutrition and dietary specialist Ayşe Sena Binöz from Acıbadem Kozyatağı Hospital.
“A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals is of great importance for a strong immune system. Besides, it is crucial to have home-cooked foods, choose seasonal fruits and vegetables and cook meals at home to ensure food hygiene," she says, stressing that these are the points people usually don't pay enough attention to when consuming food, which could be all the difference our bodies need to fight COVID-19.
Binöz says there are a number of eating habits that leave our immune system, and thus us, vulnerable to the coronavirus. Here are the top 10 we must avoid:
Mistake No. 1: Skipping breakfast
In order to meet your daily energy and protein needs, you should not be skipping main meals, while elevenses or snacks in between should also be indispensable for our diet, Binöz says. Skipping breakfast – "the most important meal of the day" – may increase the amount you eat in other meals, leading to blood sugar imbalances.
“Your body's resistance also drops when hungry,” she said, suggesting adding egg as a quality source of protein to your breakfast every day. "Its high iron and vitamin A content will help support your immune system."
Eggs should be paired with rich Vitamin C sources such as greens, peppers and oranges to help the absorption of iron, she added.
Mistake No. 2: Neglecting snacks
Be sure to have some lighter meals and snacks in between main meals to maintain blood sugar balance, control appetite and meet daily nutritional requirements. Snacks such as fruit and yogurt/milk/kefir or fruits and nuts such as almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts or multi-grain bread and cheese can help increase body resistance by providing protein, vitamin/mineral and fiber balance.
Mistake No. 3: Eating the same things
Say no to the monotone diet. By eating adequate amounts and combining different types of food, we increase their availability in our body. Noting that the protein, vitamin and mineral content of each food is different, Binöz said: "We need to make sure that our meals contain high-quality protein, iron and zinc from sources such as meat, chicken, fish and eggs; whole-grain products and legumes with high fiber and vitamin B content; fruits and vegetables with high antioxidant content; and oilseeds such as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, which are great sources of omega-3 and omega-6."
Mistake No. 4: Not drinking enough
Drinking an adequate amount of water is essential for digestion, the absorption of nutrients, getting rid of harmful waste from the body and other metabolic events. Our body actually needs 30 milliliters of water per kilogram of our weight (or about half an ounce per pound) daily, Binöz pointed out.
“Constipation, which can develop in the intestines as a result of inadequate water intake, can negatively affect intestinal health, which directly affects the immune system. For this reason, water consumption should be distributed in a balanced manner around the clock to suit the individual's needs,” she added.
She also warned that the temperature of the water you drink was also another factor that could do more harm than good, especially when it comes to hot water. People tend to think that the viruses might die if they drink hot enough water, but this will only damage the throat and oral mucosa, she said, adding that lukewarm is the way to go.
Mistake No. 5: Overdoing it on pickles
Probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir and homemade pickles are highly beneficial for the intestinal flora, which helps bolster our body resistance by strengthening our immune system.
However, overdoing it on the pickles, and consuming it in excessive amounts in hopes that it will destroy the virus will cause harm, she cautioned.
“It should be remembered that the amount of salt in pickled products harms the lining of the stomach. Consuming a lot of such foods can cause health problems in people with chronic diseases (such as hypertension and heart disease) and weaken the immune system,” she said.
Consuming foods such as bananas, apples, artichokes, celery, asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, legumes, whole grains, flaxseed, almonds and walnuts can increase the effect of probiotics, and therefore help strengthen the immune system, she added.
Mistake No. 6: Pastries and desserts, all day every day
Consuming simple carbohydrates that do not contain fiber such as packaged foods, cakes, candies and pastries disrupts our blood sugar balance. Only providing satiety for a short amount of time, these types of foods can make us eat more in our next meal and cause us to gain unhealthy weight due to their high-calorie content. At the same time, since they do get in the way of meeting our daily protein, vitamin/mineral needs, they can negatively affect our immune functions. To bolster your immunity, consume foods that contain healthy carbohydrates such as vitamin B and fiber-rich whole-grain bread, bulgur, soup and other whole-grain foods, Binöz says.
Mistake No. 7: Not consuming enough protein
Protein is vital for building and repairing tissues and fighting viral and bacterial infections. Low protein intake can cause our immune system to weaken while consuming far too much can cause kidney problems such as kidney stones.
Mistake No. 8: Too little or too much vitamin C
Vitamin C plays an important role in protecting the body from infections. Since vitamin C cannot be stored by the body, make sure to regularly consume citrus fruits, greens, peppers, kiwi and tomatoes. However, using vitamin C supplements without medical supervision could also do harm, and cause kidney stones. Try to get your vitamin C from foods, instead of relying on outside sources.
Mistake No. 9: Ignoring food-prep advice
Binöz says it is essential that you pay attention to how your meals are prepared to ensure their nutritional value is preserved. For example, due to the sensitive nature of vitamin C (sensitive to heat, light and oxygen), she says fruits and vegetables should be consumed as soon as possible, without cutting them up with a metal knife as much as possible. Ideally, they should be added in the last possible minute before serving. She adds that a portion of the vitamins in fruits and veggies usually get lost during the cooking stage so it's important not to overcook.
Mistake #10: Eating raw and undercooked foods
On that note, there are certain foods that definitely should not be undercooked or consumed raw. “For the bacteria to die while cooking varieties of meat, their internal temperature must be 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) and above. It is very important that meat is cooked well because uncooked meat can put food safety at risk with bacteria such as E.coli, Salmonella,” she noted. Similarly, consuming well-boiled or fried eggs not only allows us to benefit from their vitamin and protein content but also prevents the formation of bacteria.