It's not the hand sanitizer, the E.T. hazmat suit, the sci-fi mask, or the fast-tracked frankenvaccine that's going to be the super-forcefield to protect us from COVID-19. There are natural defenses at our fingertips. Plus, according to the American Society for Microbiology, there's at least 320,000 mammalian viruses awaiting discovery, with 1,631 being coronaviruses, which reminds me of getting slimed on those Nickelodeon shows—it won't hurt you, unless your mouth is open and you're asking for it.
Though we all have different needs, all three nutritionists I interviewed agreed on certain common denominators when it comes to boosting the immune system and keeping COVID-19 far, far away:
Do: continue social distancing and washing your hands to protect your immune system. Keep hydrated with water. Eat organic, non-GMO, nutrient- and mineral-rich whole foods, especially foods rich in vitamin C (oranges, grapefruits), vitamin A (romaine lettuce, spinach), vitamin D (fish, cheese), vitamin E (coconut oil, walnuts), selenium (bananas, dates), and zinc (almonds, grass-fed red meat). Get yourself more vitamin D under the sun, exercise, limit stress, and get good sleep.
Don't: drink too much alcohol and caffeinated drinks; eat processed foods, trans fats, highly refined vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, non-fermented soy products, or foods filled with refined sugar and carbohydrates.
"The most nutrient-dense foods contain all of our vitamins, minerals, and amino acids," said the levelheaded Connie Rutledge, a functional nutritionist and quantum healing hypnotherapist out of SLO. "The nutrient-dense foods build and heal and repair the body."
Rutledge, who is normally an "empty nester," has a full house during the ongoing shelter-in-place, as her daughters brought their families to stay together for support. She said both of them are dealing with COVID-19 related work layoffs and medical insurance nightmares.
In her profession, she uses the metabolic typing and functional diagnostic nutrition method to scientifically design nutrition plans for her clients. Passionate about food, she looks for answers for her own digestive issues and takes a gluten-free approach to whatever she cooks at home.
"Most of us aren't sensitive to gluten because of the wheat, but the pesticides—the glyphosate is so horrific."
You don't have to be "ridiculously perfect," Rutledge said. She said her downfall is chocolate caramels from Trader Joe's, which she said is a sign from her body. She said eating too many carbohydrates elevates your blood sugar, then it dips low. Your body will want it high again and beg you for more sugar.
"Sometimes you've just got to order in and be gentle with yourself," Rutledge said. "Just plan ahead and make sure breakfast is as healthy as it can be."
To be honest, I've been having my own moments of quarant-cheating. Buttered toast and coffee are my vices. Yet Rutledge said buttered toast is OK as long as you make the butter the star of the show.
"It's like we just want that fat to really satiate and nourish the body," she said. "That butyrate in the butter is so nutritious for us."
- Photo Courtesy Of Stephanie Olsen
- SOUND STEPHANIE Stephanie Olsen of Sound Body Nutrition is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner based out of SLO. She said staying healthy is all about balance, and she offered some hot tips on immune-system defense.
Alcohol in excess, sugar, processed carbohydrates, processed foods—"those are the things that make your body have an inflammatory response, and it's going to attack your immune system," said Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner Stephanie Olsen, owner of Sound Body Nutrition in SLO.
She said we need to focus on fresh whole foods, and we still need to be striving for six to eight servings of fresh vegetables and fruits.
"Keep moving, keep sweating," Olsen said, adding that exercise gives you an outlet for stress during this time, but also strengthens the immune system.
She said garlic and ginger are easy and tasty to add to food, and they are antibacterial. Olsen said you can go the supplement route, but she said the best way to get your vitamin C, for instance, is through food like papayas, kiwi, red bell peppers, and camu camu.
"If you wake up, first thing in the morning, have a glass of warm lemon water and a scoop of camu camu powder, you're going to get a huge boost of vitamin C, and it's going to be a nice jumpstart for your immune system for the day," Olsen said.
Like her colleagues, Olsen is working from home by the governor's orders. She's working on her programs and trying to keep her business afloat.
"I feel like this is a time where people could really use a nutritionist or guidance from a nutritionist right now, and it's rough for us because we can't see clients one on one. It's hard for us to connect with the community," Olsen said.
- Photo Courtesy Of Kathy Kaufmann-Alderete
- INSPECTOR KATHY Kathy Kaufmann-Alderete has been studying COVID-19 statistics the way she studies nutrition—like an investigator. She says certain viruses and bacteria favor people who are dehydrated, and who eat too much sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Kathy Kaufmann-Alderete, who owns Nutrition Solutions in Pismo Beach, is a functional medicine nutritionist, certified gluten practitioner, and registered dietitian. She has recommendations for everyone, regardless of the fact that we're all different.
"Viruses and bacteria are very attracted to certain kinds of people. They love people who are, No. 1, dehydrated," Kaufmann-Alderete said, noting that she meets many people in their 40s and 50s with decreased kidney function because they don't drink enough water.
She said she's been busy, as her clients are needing guidance right now in their worries to stay healthy.
"The second thing that viruses and bacteria like is if you consume too much sugar and refined carbohydrates," she said. That means anything that uses white flour.
"People who don't have high-quality protein at every meal are also susceptible to illness," she said, noting that some of her vegan patients are not getting enough protein to stay healthy because they are not combining their foods correctly to get amino acids.
With coronavirus going on, Kaufmann-Alderete agrees with her colleagues about protecting oneself by eating foods rich in vitamins and nutrients. She also loves to study a pile of labs and make sense of it, and she's good at explaining how supplementation can help boost the immune system.
Kaufmann-Alderete has been following the COVID-19 statistics closely. She's always learning. When I phoned her, she and her husband were about to sit and watch a webinar on COVID-19 and the immune system—why some get sick from viruses and others don't.
"Some of the people who are getting the virus, there is a connection with autoimmune, gastrointestinal problems, immunoglobulin deficiencies," she said.
The power to stay healthy is really within ourselves. Food can be such a pleasure—it can bring us comfort in times of isolation and uncertainty, reminding us of good times and fond memories of our lives. But most importantly, the food we eat has the power to naturally heal and ultimately protect us from not one virus, but from the many thousands of them. Δ
Flavor writer Beth Giuffre is putting more butter on her toast. Send some dairy goodness to firstname.lastname@example.org.