By Christina Wilson
The outbreak of COVID-19 has reinforced that there is nothing more important than investing in health and supporting your community. Taking care of yourself and your people are two essentials in the current situation. There’s something really special about the way that natural disasters bring out the best in humanity and also lead to pausing and reflecting on how to show up for yourself more fully. I want to encourage us to make the most of them by re-prioritizing your health with food. I know it’s easy and tempting to fall prey to hyper-palatable foods which are addicting.
We have a lot of power in the kitchen. Research shows that nutrition can help to upregulate your immune function and support your body’s ability to fight off pathogens. Micronutrients found in your diet play key roles at every stage of the body’s immune response. Also, keep in mind that a nutrient-dense diet can shape not just your immune health but also your mental health through the gut-brain axis which I’ve written a lot about.
Both your immune and mental health are dependent on a strong and resilient microbiome. Being resilient speaks to your ability to stay healthy or recover quickly when exposed to harmful bacteria, viruses, or toxins. Resilience is not something that is built overnight. You build it with your daily practices: eating a nourishing diet, meditating, or deep breathing to support your HPA Axis, moving your body, and prioritizing sleep. These are the ingredients that help arm us with emotional and immunological resilience that we can count on in times of uncertainty. The more that you participate in these actions, the stronger your armor becomes
When stocking your pantry for the next few weeks of quarantine, be sure that you have plenty of nutrient-dense foods on hand that will fuel your health rather than fuel stress and inflammation.
Canned or Pouched Wild Salmon
Wild salmon is a nutritional powerhouse, high in B vitamins and two immune-supporting essentials: omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful anti-inflammatory agents, yet many Americans are under-consuming this essential fatty acid and over-consuming its counterpart, omega-6 fatty acids. One serving of wild canned salmon also contains about 500 IUs of vitamin D, another nutrient that plays a role in supporting robust immune health that most Americans, especially the elderly, are deficient in.
Shopping Tip: When shopping, try to choose wild salmon over farm-raised whenever possible. Farm-raised salmon is higher in PCPs and other toxins and lower in omega 3s. Look for BPA-free cans or pouches. My favorite brands are Vital Choice and Wild Planet.
Canned oysters are a delicious way to optimize your nutritional intake. A single serving of canned oysters has more than your daily needs of zinc and B12 and is also high in selenium, vitamin D, and iron. Zinc—the nutrient commonly found in cold medicine and lozenges—may be associated with a reduced duration and severity of the common cold, if consumed in adequate amounts before the cold begins. This protein-rich shellfish also has high amounts of antioxidants, perfect for helping your body beat the oxidative stress of illness.
Shopping Tip: My favorite canned oysters company is Crown Prince. They sell a Natural Smoked Oyster in Olive Oil. When purchasing canned oysters, make sure they are BPA-Free. Avoid canned oysters that are made with vegetable oils like soybean oil or cottonseed oil.
Prepping Tip: Add canned oysters as an easy protein source on salads.
Chia seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to protein and fiber. The fiber found in chia seeds can help fuel beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, which play a key role in modulating the immune response. Chia seeds also have a rich micronutrient profile, containing zinc, calcium, magnesium, and iron to name a few.
Because of all of the nutrients packed into chia seeds, they are powerful agents against inflammation. In a randomized control trial of adult males and females, ingestion of chia seeds reduced CRP levels in the blood—a common marker for inflammation.
Shopping Tip: When purchasing chia seeds, choose a brand that is organic. Often chia seeds come in black and white varieties. Both are equally nutritious, the color just changes some of the seed’s polyphenol activity. I recommend purchasing whole seeds unless they cause digestive issues. In that case, you could purchase the ground.
Prepping Tip: Try adding two tablespoons of chia seeds to your morning smoothie. You can also try making a Chia Pudding recipe and keep it stocked in your refrigerator for an easy snack throughout the week.
Like chia seeds, ground flaxseeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a building block of omega 3s. They are also rich in phytoestrogenic compounds called lignans. Lignans have been shown to have both antibacterial and antiviral properties and have been recommended for cold and cough treatments. These compounds have synergistic effects on other areas of the body and may also exert therapeutic benefits related to postmenopausal symptoms, aid in the reduction of cholesterol and blood pressure, and be used as a therapeutic tool for the prevention of breast cancer.
You can either purchase whole flaxseeds and grind them at home in a coffee grinder or you can purchase ground flaxseeds. Grinding the flaxseeds aid in nutrient absorption. If you purchase ground flaxseeds instead of the whole then technically you will want to store them in the refrigerator or freezer in a tightly sealed container to prevent the fats from going rancid.
Like chia seeds, ground flaxseeds can easily be added to any smoothie. Flaxseeds also work well in baked goods.
Nut Butter or Tahini
Nut and seed butter like almond butter, cashew butter, peanut butter, or pecan butter make a great addition to your pantry since they are rich in plant-based proteins and monounsaturated fats. They also last for months in the pantry, unless eaten! Almonds, cashews, and pecans are all tree nuts; peanuts are a legume, and tahini is made from sesame seeds which are seeds. Each of these nut butter contains different benefits but across the board, they are a great source of healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, and iron.
Nut and seed butter can be used in almost any meal—added to smoothies, blended into dressings, and used in stir-fry sauces to give you just a few ideas.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Not only is olive oil made of monounsaturated fats, but it also has plenty of polyphenols—important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents. Studies have shown that these polyphenols may help modulate the immune system by affecting white blood cell proliferation and the production of cytokines and other important agents of your immune system.
High-quality olive oil should be extra virgin, first cold-pressed, unrefined, unfiltered, and organic. It’s also best to purchase olive oil in a dark bottle that protects the oil from oxidation.
Extra virgin olive oil is the perfect oil to drizzle on top of salads like my Kale Pear & Lemon Chicken Salad (recipe to come) You can also add to food after it has been cooked, like in my Arugula Lentil Pasta Salad (recipe to come) Olive oil is in fact safe to cook with at medium temperature around 350-400 F.
Pumpkin seeds are nutrient-dense seeds that provide fiber and vitamin D, in addition to a variety of micronutrients. They are rich in electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Pumpkin seeds are also an exceptional source of zinc, a mineral that supports overall immune health and may help fight infection. Just one serving has about 15% of your daily needs.
Try grinding these seeds into delicious nut butter, use them as a crunchy salad topper, or eat them straight from the bag for a nutritious snack.
Organic Turkey Sticks
The majority of snacks in the snack aisle are loaded with carbohydrates and sugar. Oftentimes this also includes “protein” bars that could easily be called candy bars because they are a concentrated source of sugar and dried fruit. Rather than spike your blood sugars, try loading up on an organic turkey stick. Protein is not only the most satiating macronutrient, it is also essential for building lean body mass (hello, metabolism), serving as a building block to the immune system, and aiding in recovery and healing. These protein-packed bites can satisfy you until your next meal, especially when you are at home and just feel like snacking all day long.
Pass on the traditionally raised, factory-farmed meat steaks and go out of your way to get organic turkey sticks with free-range poultry or grass-fed beef, whenever possible.
Enjoy an organic turkey stick with a side of veggies (carrots, celery, cauliflower florets) or an apple.
Apple Cider Vinegar
The primary benefits of apple cider vinegar reported in the research are associated with weight maintenance and healthy blood sugar levels. In addition to potentially aiding in weight loss, adding apple cider vinegar with meals has actually been shown to decrease postprandial glucose levels (blood sugar after meals). Now is a very important time to be mindful of blood sugar levels since being at home may create more sedentariness and easy access to small treats and snacks.
Additionally, apple cider vinegar provides gut-friendly prebiotics that helps support a healthy gut microbiome. Since the gut microbiome contains the largest collection of immune cells than anywhere else in the body, it also provides a great insurance policy for enhancing your overall health!
Avoid drinking apple cider vinegar as a straight shot! Always dilute it with water. Simply add 1-2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar to 6-8 fluid ounces of filtered water. You can also try mixing it in a salad dressing or adding a splash to herbal teas.
Nutritional yeast seasoning is a pantry essential because it provides a convenient, shelf-stable source of plant-based protein and fiber. Nutritional yeast is a great alternative source of protein because it contains 5g of protein with 2g of fiber and only 1g of net carbohydrates per 2 Tbsp. As an added bonus, nutritional yeast is also rich in B vitamins that are important for supporting energy.
Purchase nutritional yeast that is non-gmo and certified gluten-free.
From a flavor standpoint, nutritional yeast has the ability to enhance any dish with its nutty/cheesy flavor profile, making it the perfect dairy-free alternative to cheese. Try it on salad, popcorn, eggs, and other nourishing bowls.
Dark Chocolate (>70% Cacao)
Dark chocolate is known as a superfood for a few reasons. It is rich in flavanols that have been shown to have cardiac benefits and may be associated with lower blood pressure. It also contains a variety of micronutrients such as iron, magnesium, and zinc that are necessary for your body to function optimally. In terms of immune and anti-inflammatory benefits, cocoa has been associated with modified T cell and antibody function, helping to strengthen the adaptive immune response. It has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory potential.
In case you’re wondering: Cacao is the raw form of the bean and cocoa is the roasted form of the bean.
Just make sure you are purchasing 70% cacao or higher dark chocolate to get the polyphenol benefits from the cacao and keep the sugar lower. If you are dairy-free, be sure that you are choosing a bar without milk.
Enjoy 1-2 squares of dark chocolate by itself, add a splash of nut butter to the dark chocolate or add the chocolate to berries. You can also use raw cacao powder in my or my Cacao Coconut Bliss Balls (recipe to come)
Protein powder is a great pantry staple to have on hand since it is an easy, shelf-stable source of protein. There are three things that determine the effectiveness of protein powder: the amino acid content, digestibility, and bioavailability. See below for three different types of powder:
Grass-fed Whey: Research has shown whey is a complete source of protein and it has an exceptionally high amino acid content (specifically the branch chain amino acids isoleucine, leucine, and valine), a rapid digestibility, and high bioavailability. Always choose grass-fed and pasture-raised whey protein when purchasing.
Plant-based Protein If you have a severe dairy allergy or sensitivity or avoid animal products, plant-based protein powders are great options.
Collagen is sourced from animal bones, skin, and connective tissue. It is an important and abundant protein found in the body, playing a role in skin health, connective tissue + joint health, gut health, and more. While there are gut-healthy benefits and it is easy to use in different dishes, collagen does lack the essential amino acid called tryptophan and is also low in methionine. Your body likely makes up for that with your overall protein throughout the day but you will want to consider using whey, beef, or vegan protein powder as well.
I recommend looking for organic protein powders that have few ingredients; and no added sugars, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or fillers.
Try incorporating protein powder into smoothies or simply mixing it to a shaker bottle with your favorite dairy-free milk like unsweetened almond or cashew milk.
Walnuts are one of the most nutrient-dense nuts that exist. They contain phytonutrients and omega-3s that can help reduce risk for cardiovascular disease. They have been associated with reduced triglyceride levels, LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, and improvements in blood flow. A randomized controlled trial conducted on healthy adults also found that walnut consumption may benefit the gut microbiome.
When purchasing walnuts, look for raw and unsalted.
Add walnuts to your favorite baked goods—or simply snack on a small handout throughout the day.
The antioxidants + polyphenols found in green tea likely strengthen the immune system by reducing oxidative damage.
Try to select brands of green tea that are organic.
Use filtered water to brew the tea. Bring tea close to a boil and steep for 1-3 minutes.
Spices have long been used for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In fact, turmeric has been used for centuries as a treatment for many ailments due to the fact that it can modulate the activity of different immune cells. Cinnamon is another spice that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, and blood sugar lowering properties. Finally, onion powder has many electrolytes you need such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium, adding micronutrients to your dishes in addition to plenty of flavors.
Stock up on various anti-inflammatory seasonings, preferably organic varieties.
Will a collagen latte boost production of collagen? The anti-aging effects of collagen supplementation are still being studied, but initial peer-reviewed studies show that taken orally, collagen reduces inflammation and increases skin elasticity while decreasing abnormal skin’s elastic fiber formation. Look for high-grade collagen powder or cook up some delicious bone broth for the collagen it seeps into the soup.
Lentils are a great option because they provide such a wide variety of nutrients: iron, folate, protein, and fiber. Their polyphenol and phytonutrient content has been shown to be protective against a number of chronic diseases, even showing antiviral properties.
Make a large batch of lentils on the stove over the weekend. Use them throughout the week in your favorite salad, a warm lentil soup, mixed with quinoa or stirred into vegetable dishes like cauliflower rice.
Frozen Berries and Veggies frozen veggies are fantastic, sometimes they are fresher than produce.
This week I’ve been making bowls with lentils, quinoa, cauliflower rice, pumpkin and chia seeds, avocado, cabbage, parsley and leftover roasted veggies and greens.