While most people focus on social distancing, face coverings, hand washing, and even self-isolation to protect against the deadly coronavirus now ravaging the world, too few are paying enough attention to two other factors critically important to the risk of developing a Covid-19 infection and its potential severity.
Those factors are immunity, which should be boosted, and inflammation, which should be suppressed. Severe Covid-19 illness is accompanied by acute inflammation throughout the body, including the lungs, heart, and brain.
Older people have weaker immune defenses and are especially vulnerable to this disease and its potentially fatal consequences. With advancing age, the natural killer cells, a major immunological weapon, become less effective at destroying virus-infected cells. At the same time, inflammation in tissues throughout the body also increases with age. This allows the coronavirus to get into the body, bind to molecules in the nose and lungs, and wreak havoc.
People who are obese, have cancer or chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart conditions have higher inflammation in the body as well and hence, are more vulnerable to a severe outcome when infected with Covid.
Thankfully, there are manageable ways to enhance immunity and diminish inflammation. The basic lifestyle weapons, like diet and exercise, are available to everyone and can have a major impact on a person’s immune system.
Skeletal muscles reinforce the immune system because their contractions produce small proteins called myokines that dampen inflammation and increase potency of natural killer cells. The more extensive or vigorous the exercise is, the lower the inflammation. Studies found that people who do fewer than 3,000 steps a day have much more inflammation than those who do 10,000 steps or more daily.
The other big health challenge during the coronavirus crisis is to consume a varied, nutrient-rich diet and keep calorie intake under control. As baking has become a popular pastime for many sheltering at home, overconsumption of sugar and refined flour can lead to increased weight, abdominal fat, and a weakened immune system. For this reason, it is advantageous to eating a wholesome, varied diet comprised of grassfed/organic meats, sustainable seafood, healthy fats, as well as vegetables and fruits.
The following will focus on plant foods and how their unique phytonutrients can support your immunity and tame inflammation in the body. Phytonutrients are chemical compounds produced by plants to help them resist fungi, bacteria, and virus infections. Unlike protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals, phytonutrients are not essential for keeping you alive, yet, they can help prevent disease and keep your body working in tip-top shape.
Since every plant food has its own unique benefits, it is helpful to organize them into different colors – white, yellow, orange, red, green, and blue-purple. Certain colors are particularly useful for supporting immunity and lowering inflammation. Nevertheless, it is beneficial for everyone, no matter whether you are a carnivore or a vegan, to incorporate different colors of plant foods in your diet.
Why Plant Foods Are So Remarkable
1. Plant foods benefit your gut microbiome
The average human gut microbiome is made up of about 40 trillion bacteria and consists of more than 1,000 microbial species, although most of the gut bacteria belong to just 30-40 species. The vast majority of these bacteria reside in the colon.
Numerous research studies have confirmed that the microbiome has an enormous impact on almost every aspect of health, including immunity, inflammation, gut, brain, skin, and heart health.It is important to maintain not only a predominance of beneficial bacteria (versus bad bacteria) but also a high diversity of the types of bacteria in your gut microbiome.
Eating the wrong types of foods can promote the growth of bad bacteria. These include refined sugar, processed foods made of chemicals and artificial sweeteners, trans fats and bad oils, as well as animal foods that are sources of antibiotics and pesticides.
In contrast, by regularly eating more fermented foods (which contain live bacteria) such as sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, and cultured yogurt, you can introduce different strains of healthful bacteria called probiotics into your gut.
Plant foods contain various types of fiber. Fiber is not digestible by the body, hence, it promotes regularity. One type of fiber called prebiotics is fermented by the good bacteria to use as food. Examples of some prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, unripe bananas, apples (with skin), jicama, wheat bran, oats, barley, flaxseeds, burdock root, cocoa, Jerusalem artichoke, and dandelion greens.
By eating a wide variety of probiotic (fermented) and prebiotic foods regularly, not only will they help increase the beneficial bacteria count, but also the diversity of the types of bacteria in the gut. Your immune health is greatly affected by your gut microbiome.
2. Plant foods lower inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s normal response to injury and infection. It is when damaged tissues release chemicals that tell white blood cells to start the repair job. However, when inflammation is chronic, low-grade, and widespread, it starts to do damage to the body. For instance, it can play a role in the buildup of plaque in arteries that increases your chance of heart disease and stroke. Chronic inflammation is associated with a higher risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes, and possibly a worse outcome in case of a Covid-19 infection.
Fortunately, plant foods are full of anti-inflammatory nutrients that can help promote your health, such as:
Omega-3 fatty acids
– Flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and Brussel sprouts.
– Vitamin D (mushrooms)
– Vitamin K (leafy greens, fermented foods)
– Apples, onions, kale, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli.
EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate)
– Green tea
– Red wine, red grape juice, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, peanuts, pistachios, cocoa, and dark chocolate.
3. Plant foods are a powerhouse of antioxidants
Antioxidants have the ability to prevent oxidative stress, destroy free radicals, and protect the structural integrity of cells, including immune cells. There is strong evidence that adequate antioxidant intake is key to a strong immune system, regardless of age. It is also important to take in antioxidants from different foods as each antioxidant serves a specific function and is not necessarily interchangeable with another.
– Berries, citrus fruits, cherries, kiwi, papaya, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bell peppers, tomatoes.
– Avocado, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and wheatgerm.
– Brazil nuts, brown rice, banana, mushroom, oatmeal, and spinach.
– Nuts, whole grains, and beans.
– Apples, berries, greens, and tea.
– Sweet potato, yam, carrots, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers.
Last but not least, spices are full of antioxidants too.
– Black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, oregano, and turmeric.
Benefits Of Different Colors Of Plant Foods
YELLOW for Digestive Health
Rich in lutein and zeaxanthin (e.g. ginger, lemons, pineapple, bananas, and plantains)
– Enzymatic activity
– Gastric motility and regulation
– Reduce glycemic impact
– Role in fostering a healthy gut microbiome
ORANGE for Reproductive Health
Rich in beta-carotene (e.g. carrots, oranges, orange sweet potatoes, and yams)
– Antioxidant for fat soluble tissues
– Hormonal modulation
– Role in ovulation and fertility processes
RED for Lowering Inflammation
Rich in lycopene (e.g. beets, red bell pepper, tomatoes, strawberries)
– General antioxidant activity
– Immune modulation
GREEN for Cardiovascular Health
Rich in folates (e.g. leafy greens)
– Blood vessel support
– Role in healthy circulation and methylation (biochemical process in the body)
BLUE-PURPLE for Brain Health
Rich in flavonoids(e.g. purple grapes, blueberries)
– Cognitive support
– Healthy mood balance
– Role in health of nerve cells in the nervous system
Most COLOR-DENSE Plant Foods
These plant foods contain all the phytonutrients from the 5 colors:
– Carrots, grapefruit, mango, papaya, red cabbage, rutabaga, tomatoes, watermelon.
Practical Ways To Eat More Colorful Plant Foods
Think of eating by color helps to increase the intake of different plant foods. Make sure you cover all the colors at least several times per week.
Vary the cooking methods, such as eating raw as in salads, steaming, sautéing, or roasting.
Use spices, herbs, and seasonings.
For those having difficulty in making time to prepare vegetables, incorporating vegetable juices and powders can be helpful.
Not All Plant Foods Are Good For Everyone
If you have an allergy or food intolerance to certain plant foods, you should avoid them.
Some people have the genetic mutation that results in the inability to digest lectins (a type of protein in plants). Lectins are usually found in plant seeds. Some of the most lectin-rich foods include beans, lentils, peanuts, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, soy, barley, eggplant, fruits, wheat, and rice. One way to avoid the lectins, say in tomatoes, is to peel off the skin and throw away the seeds. There are also methods to reduce lectins in beans, such as pressure cooking, soaking, fermenting, or sprouting. White rice has less lectins than brown rice.
Individuals who have arthritis may find that nightshade vegetables worsen their condition. They include eggplant, Goji berries, peppers (bell, cayenne, chili, and paprika), pimentos, potatoes, tomatoes, and tomatillos.
Do not opt for processed or junk plant foods. Potato chips are usually fried in vegetable (seed) oils. Donuts, cookies, and sweets are often made with refined flour, vegetable oils, and sugar.