Amid the push for social distancing and closure of non-essential businesses, I have moved my nutrition consulting practice entirely online. Luckily, I am already set up for HIPAA compliant video sessions. I was already offering them to my local clients that just didn’t want to fight Miami traffic. One question that keeps coming up from my clients this week is: What can I eat that will boost my immune system, given some limits in food selection, and wanting to limit my trips to the store? Before I jump into the list, I want to point out that this isn’t a list of all the top immune boosting foods. I formulated the list based on what I’m seeing available in stores and what will last longer than a week at home. With social distancing taking place, most people probably don’t want to run to the grocery store every 3-4 days or even once a week. So I focused the list on foods that are shelf stable, freezer friendly, or will last a week or two in the refrigerator. Fortunately for you, I am well versed in disaster preparedness since we have a hurricane/hurricane scare every few years in Miami. Luckily we at least still have electricity unlike during/after a hurricane so that made it even easier to come up with a list of foods.
10 Quarantine Friendly Immune Boosting Foods
Packed with vitamin C and antioxidants, citrus fruits like oranges, clementines and grapefruit, are great for keeping your immune system functioning well. They are great because they will last for 2-3 weeks in the fridge. I went to the grocery store two times in the past 10 days and I noticed there were plenty of citrus fruits in stock. Citrus fruits make a great snack or you can squeeze them into a juice. If you are worried about an orange spiking your blood sugar, eat a smaller portion and pair it with some nuts or a piece of cheese to slow down how fast the sugar hits your bloodstream.
Berries & Cherries
While berries generally don’t last long you can easily freeze them or buy them frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually picked at peak ripeness, which also means peak nutrition, then flash frozen to maintain nutrients and quality. Berries (and cherries) are high in antioxidants. Cherries in a food processor or blender can be turned into a sweet frozen sorbet. Frozen fruits in general are great for making smoothies. If you can’t find citrus fruit, cherries or berries just get any fruit you can find. You can freeze what you don’t eat before it goes bad.
Fresh broccoli can last up to a week in the fridge, but frozen broccoli is just as nutritious. Broccoli is packed with vitamins A, C, and E as well as fiber. You can add fresh or frozen broccoli to skillet meals or steam and season as a side dish.
Fresh garlic will usually last a few weeks at home but in a pinch you can always resort to garlic powder. Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
Fresh ginger can also last a while, but I still rarely can use a whole ginger root before it goes bad. A trick I learned years ago is to freeze it. There are two ways to freeze ginger. You can juice it and pour the juice into small ice cube trays. After they freeze, pop them out and store them in a freezer baggie. You can also peel the ginger, cut it into chunks and freeze the chunks. You can use the frozen ginger chunks to make ginger tea, boil them in a soup broth, or add them to a smoothie.
Heartier greens like kale can sometimes last longer than a week. More tender greens like spinach or a spring mix go bad pretty fast. Enjoy them in my Go Get ‘em Green Smoothie. If you stuff a paper towel into the bag or plastic box that they come in, then it will absorb some moisture and help it last longer. If you aren’t going to be able to use your greens right away, or want to save some for next week, you can always freeze them in single serving sizes to put in smoothies or soups.
The live and active cultures in yogurt may help stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases. If you go for a lower sugar or plain yogurt you can sweeten it up by adding in some half melted frozen cherries. It is a super yummy combo. In times where you might not get back to the store for a while,I recommend choosing the yogurt with the longest expiration date and not necessarily the “healthiest”. As long as the label says “contains live and active cultures” you’ll get the benefits. If you want to step it up a notch, try kefir. It is very similar to yogurt but usually has a more diverse mix of bacteria.
Nuts and seeds in general are a great source of immune boosting vitamin E as well as healthy fats, fiber, and minerals.
Both green and black teas are great sources of antioxidants, but green tea in particular is high in EGCG. EGCG is a powerful antioxidant shown to boost immune function. If you aren’t a fan of green tea check out this post on how to make green tea taste better, not bitter
While fresh turmeric root is amazing, you can certainly make it easy on yourself and opt for ground turmeric in the spice isle. To get the most benefit from turmeric, make sure your turmeric containing dish has some fat in it to maximize absorption of its key compounds. If you like black pepper, adding it to the mix will also increase absorption of curcumin. Curcumin is a key component in turmeric, as it slows down how quickly your liver breaks the spice down, allowing for the curcumin to remain in your bloodstream longer. If you aren’t a fan of turmeric, try increasing your intake of any herbs and spices you do like. Many of them also have health boosting benefits.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the time to be focusing on eating a perfect diet. However, with a small amount of planning and strategy you can keep your fridge and pantry stocked with immune boosting foods to keep yourself healthy and energized. Fruits and veggies (fresh or frozen), nuts/seeds, garlic, spices and green tea are a great place to start. Get what you can and be okay if it’s not perfect. You probably have enough stress right now. As a dietitian-nutritionist that specializes in binge and emotional eating, I offer unique solutions for those that are looking to live a healthier lifestyle and to build their immune system. I am well equipped to give you sound advice and practical strategies for building an immune boosting meal plan. While at the same time giving you mindset tools to make sure you can implement your plan. I can also help you further strengthen your immune system with do-able stress management techniques. If you’d like to learn more about how we can work together on boosting your immune system while minimizing stress eating, schedule a free strategy call today. You can also join my private FB Group: End Emotional and Binge Eating with Dietitian Dina
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