Five years ago, my cousin, Dr Jackie Rose — a GP — and I began a collaboration looking into what to eat and what to avoid, to help her patients stay healthy through diet and lifestyle.
That project turned into a cookbook/guide to healthy eating, To Life! Healthy Jewish Food, which is due to be published next month in aid of several charities.
With Covid-19 sweeping the world, staying healthy is at the forefront of all of our minds. While no food or supplement, can protect you from getting this coronavirus, the way you eat can keep your body’s immune system in the best shape possible to help stave it off.
Much of what we can do is common sense — eat a balanced diet, with lots of fruit and vegetables (fresh, canned or frozen), get plenty of sleep, and as much exercise as you can manage.
Certain foods, however, will serve your immune system better than others:
Vegetables in the cabbage family (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, radishes, sprouts, pak choi, rocket, horseradish and wasabi) are particularly good for your immune system. Roasting or stir-fry sprouts, cauliflower or cabbage with a little olive oil until golden brown to bring out a deliciously nutty flavour that even children may enjoy.
From A -D
Vitamins A, B C and D play an important role in supporting the immune system. Orange and yellow fruit and vegetables like carrots, apricots, peaches and sweet potatoes are great sources of vitamin A. Mushrooms, especially shiitake, porcini and mixed dried wild mushrooms, are rich in immune-boosting selenium and B vitamins. Whole grains, beans and yeast extract are also good sources. Citrus, apples, kiwi fruit, watercress and peas, are rich in vitamin C. Red and yellow peppers combine vitamins A and C.
Vitamin D is found in fish, milk and eggs, but the best source is from sunlight. Even while we’re in lockdown, just 15 minutes a day sitting in the garden, on a roof terrace or balcony or even by an open window with the sun on your skin should help give you a boost.
Herbs and spices
Ginger, garlic, turmeric and other herbs and spices, have been used for centuries to support immunity. Recent studies have confirmed this and revealed that members of the mint family (including sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano) have similar properties thanks to a chemical called rosmarinic acid. Garlic has been shown to improve immunity as part of a balanced diet, although recent claims that eating large quantities helps prevent or cure Covid-19 have not been proven.
The immune system needs protein to do its work such as creating antibodies to viruses. Eggs, fish, meat and cheese provide this in most diets. Vegans need to make sure they get plenty of vegetable protein from beans, lentils and other pulses.
Trust your gut
The role of “good” gut bacteria in our physical and mental wellbeing has recently been generating great interest among medical scientists. Onions, leek and garlic, and high-fibre foods like beans, artichokes, and oats help create an ideal environment to grow these good bacteria. Fermented foods, such as plain bio-yoghurt, kefir and pickles enable them to flourish. Add a spoonful of sauerkraut to coleslaw, casseroles or sandwiches to boost your intake of ferments.
Fats — the good, the bad and the ugly
Omega-3 fat, found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, is great for your immune system, as is extra virgin olive oil — so try to use this instead of margarine or other oil in cooking and salad dressings.
Soup, glorious soup
Chicken soup is known as Jewish penicillin with good reason. Studies have shown it can boost the immune system. Simmer a bag of leftover bones or chicken parts with vegetables scraps — carrot, leek and celery tops and roots or peelings — with water to cover for a couple of hours then strain it to yield a clear broth that’s a great base for soups and stews. Soups in general are a brilliant source of immune-boosting nutrients, including herbs and spices.
The stuff of life
Stay hydrated, especially if you do get Covid-19. Drink lots of water or other clear fluids. If you get fed up of plain water, add a sprig of mint or a slice of lime to cool still or sparkling water, or add fresh ginger to hot water.
Sugar, stress and comfort eating
Stress reduces your immunity, and we tend to reach for sugar- and carb-laden foods when we’re feeling anxious. Research has shown that blood sugar spikes caused by these impulses can impair immunity over time. So cut back on sweets, biscuits and jam, as well as sweetened hot drinks, sodas and juice.
“White carbs” (refined carbohydrates) such as potatoes, white bread, pasta and rice also spike your blood sugar. Switch to whole-grain versions — brown rice, wholemeal pasta which have less impact on blood sugar and also provide fibre for a healthy digestion. In general though, fill up on veggies and protein, and eat carbs, including whole grains, only in moderation.
Alcohol also depresses the immune system, so tempting as it may be to hit the bottle in times like these, moderation is important. Try other stress busters such as breathing exercises, yoga, meditation and camomile tea. Sharing thoughts and feelings with family or friends can also help.
Judi Rose and Dr Jackie Rose are the authors of To Life! Healthy Jewish Food available to order via www.youcaxton.co.uk/tolife in early May. Use code JC2020 for a 20% discount.