Diet during Coronavirus pandemic

Centar za nutricionizam i dijetetiku inga markovic

The good functioning of our immune system is the most important thing for our health during a Coronavirus pandemic, as well as overall health. The strong immune system protects us both from light infections and more serious ones like the infection caused by COVID-19 that we don’t have a specific immune system for since it is a new virus. Even though our genes determine the traits of our immune system, external factors like food play a significant role in doing the same, as well. Scientists have only recently started researching the fascinating and complex influence of food on the human immune system. The results that they have gathered clearly show that the food we eat can affect our immune system positively or negatively. Foods containing primarily vitamins and minerals play the role of a stimulator of the body’s defense function since it increases the resistance to virus and bacterial infections that can either progress or retreat, depending on the power of our immune system.

The influence of food

Foods that contain protective elements have a strong impact on white blood cells that are our first line of defense. This primarily refers to lymphocytes – T-cells and B-cells called natural killers. B-cells are responsible for the production of antibodies when they come in contact with viruses, while T-cells control many defense activities, producing two substances called interferon and interleukin that play the main role in fighting infections.

How to boost your immune system?

Quality life-long nutrition is necessary for a good immune system. However, when a new pandemic with a new virus breaks out, we should adjust our diet to the current situation and try to boost the defense mechanisms of our body in every way we can. Eat food that strengthens the immune system like:

  1. Fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotenes since some studies have shown that beta-carotene improves the defense of our body from virus infections because it increases the number of specific defense cells called, as already mentioned, natural killer cells. It also activates lymphocytes and T-cells that serve the role of helpers. Doctor Ronald R. Watson from the University of Arizona in Tucson conducted research, which states that larger amounts of beta-carotene increase the number of protective cells, which means that increasing more beta-carotene increases the strength of the body’s immune system.


We should eat eight cups of vegetables rich in beta-carotene like carrots, kale, spinach, sweet potato, pumpkin, broccoli, and peas every day. By doing this, we provide our body with enough means to strengthen the immune system. Vegetables should be consumed both fresh and heat-treated present in all three of our main mails during the day.


You should eat at least for pieces of fruit each day during snack times. Choose citruses like oranges, grapefruits, and lemon. Lemon is good for salad dressings, as well, which will increase the amount of vitamin C in your body. Our body can’t synthesize vitamin C, so it is important to take it through food. Fruits and vegetables are the richest in it, so these recommendations will help you take in the main protective elements of food. Bell peppers, eglantine, lemons, oranges, kiwis, cabbage, and tomatoes are the richest in vitamin C. This vitamin reduces the inflammatory processes of airways, so it is important to increase the intake to prevent the infections caused by COVID-19. Consuming 200 mg of vitamin C a day decreases the risk of airway infections. To take it into perspective, consuming 200mg of vitamin C is like eating three oranges daily.


  1. Probiotic yogurt is irreplaceable when it comes to boosting the immune system. This beverage is extremely respected in scientific circles. Yogurt stimulates the production of gamma-interferons, which increases the production of antibodies and helps natural killer cells to be more efficient. A study from the University of California in Davis done by the Medical school has shown that examinees who had two cups of probiotic yogurt a day for four months had five times more gamma-interferons in blood, the substance that actually fights infections. We could also consume more probiotics during this period, but only those with live cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.


  1. Garlic, an ingredient familiar to us, is a great choice of food during the pandemic. It boosts the power of T-lymphocytes and macrophages, which are the main players for the body’s defense from infections. Scientists say that garlic is ‘the modulator of biological response’. Only a few cloves of garlic a day are enough to protect us from virus infections, and even if we get sick, the recovery is a lot faster and easier. Garlic is a natural antibiotic with strong antivirus effect of its sulfur compounds that contain an abundance of antioxidants.


  1. Food rich in zinc – animal and poultry meat, veal liver, pumpkin seeds, oysters, fish, eggs, and whole grains. Zinc plays an important role in our immune system since it controls the production of antibodies and T-cells, as well as their activity. Zinc can even make the immune system younger when it comes to elderly people, so it is necessary to consume it for the prevention and treatment of the elderly that are the most exposed to the influence of the Coronavirus, especially since they get sick the most easily in the first place.


  1. Eggs are a great choice because they contain phospholipids that protect cells from the influence of the virus.


What should we avoid?

The things that destroy our immune system are fats, especially omega-6 fatty acids from corn and sunflower oil because they oxide quickly producing free radicals that attack the defense cells. Instead, choose olive oil, at least during this time. Sugar is not a good choice either since it reduces the power of natural killer cells to fight the virus. Sugar is present in all sweet ingredients, including simple sugars or carbohydrates from white flour and all of its products. In this period, we should completely stop consuming products like this because of their negative influence on the immune system and the possibility of gaining weight, considering that we are not as physically active as usual. Sodas, industrial juices, and condiments are on the Avoid it list as well.

A strong immune system and implementation of hygienic measures are not only important for the prevention of infections but because of the possible consequences created by the new way of life that we will experience after the pandemic, for sure.


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