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  • Writer's pictureDr. Karen F. Miller

Food to Nourish and Protect

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

Is anybody else eating way more than usual or is it just me? Since food is frequently on my brain and helping my patients improve their chances of staying healthy during this pandemic means helping them optimize their immune function, I thought it would be good to talk about how food can help (or hurt).

I posted early on (before the WHO actually declared this a pandemic) some strategies to help everyone stay safe but wanted to expand that to specifically talk about immune function. I saw this graph (below) online this week. If you can't read it very well, it shows a green curve with a baseline mark at the low end of the scale and a red curve with a baseline mark higher on the scale. On the vertical axis is the measure of inflammation.

You can see at the top of the graph a dotted line marked ARDS threshold. For the non-medical folk, ARDS is the main reason people die from COVID-19. It stands for acute respiratory distress syndrome. The lungs fill up with byproducts of inflammation and debris and you lose the ability to breathe. Not good.

So what does this have to do with food? Well, certain foods are very inflammatory. We know that sugar is the main inflammatory food and poor blood sugar regulation raises your baseline inflammation level.

So to significantly lower your risk of dying from COVID-19, the first step is to lower your sugar intake (hard, I know!). The next step would be to lower your exposure to toxins in food which can cause inflammation and stress on your system. Avoiding GMO foods would be one way to lower inflammation and stress in your body. Meat fed with GMO corn (beef, pork, chicken, turkey) has more pesticides in it - especially the fattier meats like beef and pork.

These are inflammatory, so look for pastured animals, free range and organic meat sources and wild caught fish. Farmed fish are usually stressed because of the enclosures and crowding and may be laced with colorants and antibiotics.

When your body is working hard to combat baseline inflammation you are also using up raw materials that could be used to fight off the virus. Some of these raw materials are vitamins and minerals necessary for the immune system to be at its best.

The short list of nutrients needed to optimize your immune function includes vitamins A, D, C, E, B6, B12, folate(B9) and minerals Zinc, Iron, Copper, Magnesium and Selenium. Specifically for this coronavirus, Potassium is very important if you get infected because low potassium levels have been linked to more severe illness and mortality.

If you are thinking about going out to buy these nutrients I have bad news, most of them are on backorder.

So let's talk about how to get these nutrients in the food you eat. I'll start with the avocado toast seen above.

Avocados are an excellent source of vitamins C, E, K and B6. They also have folate, magnesium and potassium. You also get beta-carotene (your body can make vitamin A from that) and omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory molecules. There is even a little zinc, copper and fiber. They also provide a good amount of pantothenic acid (B5) - and since one of the consequences of having too little B5 is respiratory infections this would be a good nutrient to have around!

So the avocado by itself is a super food to have on a regular basis. It has no cholesterol, salt or sugar. The fats are healthy, anti-inflammatory fats. They are also pretty tasty smashed up on a piece of whole grain toast. If you can find sprouted whole grain sourdough bread you will likely get selenium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin B6.

You may have noticed there are 'sprinkles' on my avocado toast. These include dried garlic granules, crushed red pepper flakes, white sesame seeds and black currant seeds. These are not just for decoration! Besides making this avocado toast very tasty, they provide additional nutrients including vitamins A, C, E, and B6, potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and manganese. Other health benefits included are decreased appetite from the capsaicin in the red pepper flakes and super antioxidant effects from the anthocyanins (pigment chemicals) in the black currant seeds.

What you can't see in the photo is the grass fed organic butter that I put on the bread when I toasted it in the toaster oven. I rarely do dairy but the grass fed butter does provide vitamin A, vitamin K2 (bone and heart health) and omega 3 fatty acids (because it is grass fed - this doesn't apply to regular corn fed cow butter!).

So this one plate gave me almost all of the nutrients I needed to help my immune system work at its best. I've been working on other 'plates' to do the same thing.

Yesterday I made pan-fried pastured pork chops with sautéed dandelion greens. I used grain free crackers made from cassava flour and almond flour rosemary crackers and pounded them into tiny pieces and added some tiger nut flour for the pork chop coating (seasoned it with cajun spices, of course).

For the dandelion greens, I dunked them into boiling water then into a colander to drain. Then I sautéed purple onions and garlic in ghee and when the onions began to turn translucent I added the dandelion greens. I had roasted some golden beets earlier and diced one up and sprinkled it on top of my serving of greens.

There is no photographic evidence because I was really hungry. Slurp.

If you would like to get a tool kit that includes handouts of the nutrients needed for immune support and the foods that have these nutrients along with a handout for mindful eating and a food plan to protect your heart and lower your blood sugar (therefore inflammation) then just go here and scroll to the bottom to the downloadable handouts section.

There is also a handout of immune supportive supplements. We don't get adequate levels of some of the suggested nutrients on a daily basis so some supportive supplements plus a nutrient dense diet is the best plan to ward off infection or beat it if you get exposed. You can look for these supplements here.

If you have any 'antiviral recipes' you like, please share in the comments.

Namaste and stay safe.

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