By Betsy Bruns
At the writing of this article, more than 277,000 cases ofCOVID-19 have been reported here in the United States and the number is rising each day. Most of us are staying home to save lives and to flatten the curve. At this time, many in the collective are feeling the effects, feeling the fear, feeling disempowered—even powerless. We are looking to the government, the news stations, social media and supplements, but how many of us are looking at our plate?
I have been hearing stories of younger populations with no known underlying health conditions contracting the more severe form of the virus requiring hospitalization, even depending on respirators to breathe. What if we are overlooking something that is right under our nose? Is it possible that the standard American diet may be creating an underlying health condition that is leaving millions at higher risk?
Only 11% of Americans get the recommend three to five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. That means 89% or 293,000,000 Americans do not. Is it possible that produce deficiency and overconsumption of processed and animal foods is an under-considered factor in COVID-19?
We’ve all heard the Hippocrates quote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. In light of the pandemic, we might want to consider what this means.
Here’s how food becomes medicinal:
The following information was sourced from The Physicians Committee.
Vitamins, Minerals, and Antioxidants:
Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables provide nutrients—like beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E—that can boost immune function. Because many vegetables, fruits and other plant-based foods are also rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress.
Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce inflammation and boost immune function by increasing disease-fighting cells in the body. Excellent sources include sweet potatoes, carrots and green
Vitamins C and E:
Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that help to destroy free radicals and support the body’s natural immune response. Sources of vitamin C include red peppers, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, mangoes, lemons, as well as other fruits and vegetables. Vitamin E sources include nuts, seeds, spinach and broccoli.
Research shows vitamin D supplementation may reduce the risk for viral infections, including respiratory tract infections, by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body. Increased vitamin D in the blood has been linked to the prevention of other chronic diseases, including tuberculosis, hepatitis and cardiovascular disease. Food sources of vitamin D include fortified cereals and plant-based milk substitutes and supplements.
Zinc is a mineral that can help boost white blood cells, which defend against invaders. Sources include nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, beans and lentils.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the immune system is dependent on white blood cells to produce antibodies that combat bacteria, viruses and other invaders. Those eating a predominantly plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables have been shown to have more potent white blood cells due to a high intake of vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Eating a low-fatdiet may also be protective. Studies have shown that limiting dietary fat helps to strengthen immune defenses. Research also shows that oils may impair white blood cell function and that high-fat diets may alter the gut microbiota that aid in immunity.
Obesity is another factor linked to increased risk for influenza and other infections. Plant-based diets help maintain a healthy weight because they are rich in fiber, which helps fill you up, without adding extra calories. Fiber can also lower Body Mass Index (BMI), which is linked to improved immunity.
While there is no guarantee that a whole food plant-based diet will protect you from contracting COVID-19, eating a variety of immune-boosting foods daily, while minimizing or avoiding animal foods and processed foods will arm your defenses.
CHICKPEA SALAD WITH ORANGE MISO DRESSING*
Makes 2 Servings
This dish is usually one of the most popular recipes in the Food For Life Kickstart series. People love the refreshing flavors and how good it makes them feel. Plus, it’s beautiful in presentation and looks great on a buffet table.
12cherry tomatoes, halved
4 green onions, sliced
½ cup dry quinoa
1½ cups cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas), or 1 can low-sodium garbanzo beans, rinsed
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro
Juice of 2 fresh oranges or a 1/4 cup
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons white or yellow miso
1 tablespoon maple syrup or agave nectar
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1 teaspoon ginger, grated or minced
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
To make quinoa, place half cup dry quinoa in one cup water in a one-and-a-half-quart saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). You will know that the quinoa is done when all the grains have turned from white to transparent, and the spiral-like germ has separated. Wait for it to cool to add to the recipe. You could also substitute one cup of frozen, thawed quinoa for a pre-cooked option.
Combine the tomatoes, onions, cooked quinoa, garbanzo beans and fresh cilantro in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, thoroughly whisk the orange juice, rice vinegar, miso, maple syrup or agave nectar, garlic, ginger and sesame seeds to make the dressing.
Pour the dressing into the larger bowl and toss all of the salad ingredients together.
Plant-based eating has entered the mainstream and restaurants have taken notice. Dishes that we traditionally view as indulgences can be made to deliver
Take pizza for example. It’s one of my favorite treats when ordering out. I find most pizza places can make a plant-powered pie.
If possible, opt for a gut-friendly whole wheat or sourdough crust. Make sure there is no hidden dairy. You might request extra sauce and a variety of veggies such as mushrooms, onion, garlic, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, spinach and broccoli. Skip the cheese and meat, of course.
Your pizza will not only taste delicious and fresh, but you won’t feel weighed down and your immune system will be energized.
* Recipe and photo credit: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)
**Photo credit: Betsy Bruns
Betsy Bruns is a plant-based health coach, “Food for Life” instructor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and an Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) practitioner. When she isn’t making healing food taste like comfort food or helping clients tap away stress and cravings with EFT, she’s soaking up nature and dreaming of ways to make life more delicious for all beings. Visit Vegsetter.com.