There’s a nourishing, nutritious necessity that Navy experts say during this time of pandemic is perhaps more crucial than ever.
Fueling body, mind – and soul – with balanced meals, along with regular physical activity and sensible mental resiliency – can help bolster a person’s immune system, insists Navy dietitians and nutritionists.
As Navy Medicine and Defense Health Agency military treatment facilities like NMRTC Bremerton continue to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, such efforts require balanced nutritional needs to fuel physical requirements and ensure mental health to handle the daily challenges, long hours and exacting responsibilities.
Mix in social distancing, cloth face coverings, and limited movement, and there’s a need for imaginative, innovative and inspired ways to ensure that proper nourishment isn’t neglected during what’s being called, ‘the new norm.’
NMRTC Bremerton’s Nutrition Department is sharing ‘Tips of the Week,’ with staff and beneficiaries to help everyone bolster their immune system and stay healthy. The initial tips prompt the benefits of minimizing stressors and eating healthy to promote a person’s healthy immune response.
How can someone bolster their immune system to help them stay strong to handle any virus?
“Usually the most common thought that comes to mind when thinking about food and stronger immune system is Vitamin C but there are so many more great nutrients. For example, protein is not just for building muscle. It helps build antibodies and plays a key role in healing and recovery,” explained Lt. Mari Moffitt, NMRTC Bremerton Combined Food Operations/Nutrition Management head and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Moffitt added that other vital health nutrients provide similar benefits, as well as help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Vitamin A keeps a person’s skin, tissues, and respiratory system healthy. Vitamin E protects cells from environmental damage. Vitamin D helps to regulate immune cell functions and zinc supports creation of new cells.
“However, rather than reach for supplements go for whole foods which are made up of other great nutrients,” Moffitt stressed. “Balance a diet high in whole foods with adequate and not excessive calories. Effective stress management, adequate sleep and physical activity will also help folks stay strong and healthy.”
Cheryl S. Decker, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at NMRTC Bremerton, endorses including some of the following foods to increase daily nourishment needs: fruits rich in antioxidants like oranges, cantaloupe, and apples; vegetables rich in antioxidants like spinach, bell peppers, and carrots; foods high in Vitamin D like milk, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, and some cereals; foods high in Vitamin C like citrus fruits, watermelon, tomatoes; food sources rich in zinc such as beef, ricotta cheese and pecans; and anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as ginger, rosemary and basil.
On the flip side, there are foods – and beverages – that can suppress a person’s immune system.
“Alcohol is a leading culprit. Infectious disease specialists described in a recent published article that ‘alcohol can make a virus last longer. Research shows alcohol can cause bacteria leakage, which leads to inflammation, forcing immune system’s defense down. Booze is (also) dehydrating and staying hydrated is important for staying healthy,” said Decker.
“Hydration is very important,’ added Moffitt. “The average adult needs two to three liters – about eight to 12 8-ounce glasses – of water each day, depending on activity level and health status of the individual.
Added sugars likewise can weaken immune systems.
“Sugar can wreak havoc on our immune system as it triggers low-grade inflammation in the body and decreases our body’s ability to reduce bacteria. Sugar also has no nutritional value. Some studies suggest it may lower immunity for several hours, which is not at all ideal. Also keep in mind, when we are ingesting a food or beverage high in sugar, it is displacing a healthier choice,” explained Decker.
Moffitt attests that during this time of social distancing with many staying at home and limiting their movements, there could be a tendency to engage in less than ideal eating habits.
“Stress-eating is a common coping strategy that isn’t optimal. Finding tools that are healthy to replace eating can help. Might need a reminder note or photo on the refrigerator of alternative ideas to break this very easy habit. Adding tools to a toolbox that replace stress-eating is a healthy strategy to maintain a healthy weight for life,” Moffitt said.
Decker notes there are already tools in everyone’s toolbox.
“By practicing little things that make you happy – listening to favorite music and refraining from 24/7 news – or spending time on a hobby or playing an enjoyable game, lets you do your best to mitigate personal stressors,” encouraged Decker. “Activity will (also) help your immune system fight infection, boost your body’s ‘good chemicals’ and help you get a good night’s sleep. Take a walk or a run or ride your bike.”
Moffitt endorses the ready available resource is the U.S. Department of Agriculture web page, choosemyplate.gov, which offers everything from recipe recommendations to seasonal suggestions and daily checklists available to use based on height, weight, age and activity pattern.
“Balance is key. See the healthy plate at choosemyplate.gov. Balancing carbohydrates with plant and lean sources of protein; healthy fats and half a plate of non-starchy veggies is important to be adequately fueled. Make half of carbohydrates whole grains; have small servings of fruits, as fruits are carbohydrates, and balance this with protein such as an apple. Foods deep in color are always high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Variety when dining will keep us healthiest as it offers a good mix of nutrients,” said Moffitt.