Focusing on Nutrition and Wellbeing
2021-01-04 | By Abbie Marsh Pumarejo
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have the safest way to health” – Hippocrates
Hippocrates makes it sound simple. We are entering a season where, under normal circumstances, we would maybe get a yearly flu shot to keep things in check, health-wise. Covid-19 has turned the world upside down on just about every level. We now know it can have detrimental effects for those with certain medical conditions (diabetes, heart disease) and that immunocompromised persons are especially susceptible.
As much as we would like to avoid thinking about the prospect of contracting Covid-19, we would do well to focus on what we can do presently to stay healthy.
Health is dynamic
Dina Karagic, a nutritionist and founder of Rotterdam’s TERRA Nutrition & Wellness, reminds us “our health is dynamic, and is not something that we have to take care of once and then we have guaranteed health for the rest of our lives. Health is something we work on throughout our lives. Just like watering our plants, we need to nourish our bodies so they continue to provide us with good health.”
She suggests eating a range across all food groups, ‘eating the rainbow,’ which can provide us with the necessary nutrients our bodies need to function at their best. “Nature provides us with a spectrum of colours, and each colour has its own unique health benefit that can strengthen the immune system as well as prevent diseases.”
A productive start would be to look at your meals and see how you can bring more colours onto your family’s plates. Karagic stresses that there are certain categories of whole foods that can keep things humming along:
Allium vegetables – includes onions, spring onions, garlic, shallots, leeks and chives. Not only great flavour enhancers, but have been found to helpprevent many diseases. Karagic says, “numerous studies show that garlic has antibiotic properties and is effective against a wide spectrum of bacteria, fungi and viruses.”
Healthy fats – such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats –are essential for the proper functioning of almost every cell in our body. Omega 3 and omega 6 are part of the polyunsaturated fats, and are found in fatty fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and plant-based oils. Many of us aren’t getting enough healthy fats or have too much of the wrong type of fat (saturated) in our diets.
Probiotic foods – naturally fermented foods that may help supply plenty of beneficial bacteria to the intestinal lining. This is important because about 70 percent of the immune system is housed in our gut. Probiotic foods include natural yogurt, milk and water, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi. “These help maintain the balance of your gut flora and promote optimal, overall health.”
Find out more:
Dina Karagic terra-nutrition.com
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, diets limited in variety and lower in nutrients can negatively affect immune systems. There are two types of immunity: innate and adaptive. A ‘Western diet,’ high in refined sugar and red meat but low in fruits and vegetables, can create disturbances in healthy intestinal function, resulting in gut inflammation and suppressed immunity. The ollowing categories of foods are additional insurance for adaptive immunity:
Citrus fruits – oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes are terrific sources of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that can play a role in immune cell functioning according to a 2015 review in Chemistry Central Journal. Researchers also found that vitamin C deficiency is associated with a higher susceptibility to infections and impaired immunity.
Beans and other prebiotics – fibre, or carbohydrates that pass through the digestive tract to promote digestion and elimination, are essential to a well-balanced diet. Think beans, whole grains (including oats), cashews, soy, and bananas.
Shellfish and other sources of zinc – zinc is found in oysters, mussels and other shellfish, as well as milk, poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Supplementing with zinc (at least 75 mg per day) from the onset of a cold might help you feel better sooner.
Mushrooms – have high levels of polysaccharides (specifically Beta-glucans) contained within their cell walls. This class of therapeutically active compounds interact positively on immunity by boosting mood, increasing focus and decreasing brain fog.
Dark Chocolate – one study found that consumption of 70 percent cacao increased T-Cell activation, cellular immune responses and in sensory perception.
While eating well is something we have direct control over in our daily lives, it is not the only contributor to wellbeing.
Katarina Gaborova, a psychologist based in The Hague, and member of the ACCESS Counselling Network, offers some insight, “I think that Covid-19 affects many areas of our lives which in turn may affect our thoughts, emotions, levels of stress and energy, etc. Via the ‘gut-brain axis’, there is a communication which connects the emotional and cognitive areas of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Basically, if our gut is happy, we will also feel much happier in general. That in turn will positively affect our thoughts, energy levels and can help lower stress.”
Given these uncertain times, anxiety might be elevated. Gaborova recommends avoiding snacks and sodas that are high in sugar, as well as excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol, as overindulging in these can add to increased anxiety and sluggishness.
Gaborova emphasises that an overall healthy lifestyle also includes having adequate sleep, exercising several times per week, and keeping stress to a minimum so our bodies can fight any infections or diseases. Hippocrates was onto something. Finding a balance that works for us individually can certainly contribute to our health and wellbeing.
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About the author
Abbie Marsh Pumarejo is a writer and editor based in Europe, who enjoys travel, reading, entertaining and spending time at the beach in Spain.