Ease out of lockdown with good nutrition from ION – The Institute for Optimum Nutrition
Returning to ‘normal’ – A celebration or a challenge?
From stress to sleepless nights, the pandemic and repetitive lockdowns have taken a toll on the nation’s mental and physical wellbeing. But whilst the gradual relaxation of Covid-19 measures is positive for many, not everyone is feeling so optimistic. The slow return to normal life poses new anxieties for both adults and children; some are struggling with the financial pressures of being without work, whilst others are dealing with the emotional stress of having lost loved ones, or the physical implications of long Covid.
These concerns are easier to face if our physical wellbeing is at its optimum. Increased anxiety and stress negatively impact the immune system, and at a time when we need our immune systems to be strong to aid the efficacy of vaccination, good nutrition has never been more important.
The importance of immunity
As well as doing what we can to minimise stress and anxiety, positive nutrition can support immune health and lower stress levels.
Jackie Lynch, Chair of the Trustees at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition says:
“Not only can we give ourselves the best possible chance of the vaccine being effective if we improve our health in the short term, but we can also protect ourselves from future infections and chronic diseases in years to come.”
Lynch recommends limiting ultra-processed food and eating a diet rich in micronutrients such as vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6 and B12 as well as folic acid, iron, selenium and zinc. These can usually be obtained by eating a rainbow over the course of the week, although B12 and selenium are mostly found in meat, fish and eggs, so vegetarians and vegans may need to speak to a nutritional therapist or GP about supplementing.
“Eating the rainbow will also feed helpful bacteria in the gut, which plays a key role in regulating a healthy immune response and ensuring the body can recognise invaders,” says Lynch.
Vitamin C and vitamin D, she adds, are crucial. Vitamin C – sources of which include peppers, kiwi and citrus fruit – is important because infections deplete the body’s vitamin C stores. Meanwhile, vitamin D deficiency may be associated with sub-optimal immune function and an increased risk of infection, with studies linking vitamin D deficiency to the severity of COVID-19. Vitamin D is obtained from meat, fish, dairy, some mushrooms and sunlight.
According to Lynch, reducing stress is also essential. “Chronically raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol can result in the immune system becoming resistant to the stress response,” she explains. “Swollen glands, a sore throat and aching limbs can signify that the body is working hard to cope – and a good indicator to take time to relax.”
Question and answers from the ION experts
The Institute for Optimum Nutrition’s panel of experts answers questions being asked about immunity and mental health as lockdown restrictions ease.
Paula Werrett is a nutritional therapist from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and an expert in immunity at The Nutrition Link.
How might a strong immune system support vaccine efficacy?
“Research is still emerging, but evidence suggests that overall immunity may impact our response to vaccines.
“Researchers from Ohio University found that factors compromising the immune system or causing inflammation affected the vaccine efficacy and vaccine side effects. This means it may take longer for the vaccine to work or may reduce the length of protection.
“Since more than 70% of our immune system is in our gut, taking steps to improve our gut microbiome diversity may help. Do this by consuming a diet rich in wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. Finally, for a rapid and long-lasting vaccine response, have a healthy sleep pattern and manage chronic stress. Physical exercise and 25 minutes of arm exercises before the injection may also increase antibody response and reduce side effects.”
Lorraine Perretta is a registered nutritional therapist from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition’s Brain Bio Centre, specialising in mental health.
How can nutrition play a role in easing anxieties around integrating back into society?
“Food should nourish our body and how we feel. We hear about ‘comfort eating,’ which usually refers to foods that are anything but comfort for our mental health.
“Reduce stress around food and cooking by choosing easy-to-prepare recipes, such as stews, soups or curries. These can be made in one pan to reduce the washing up, and make enough for another meal. Make sure meals include protein from meat, fish, chicken or pulses with lots of different vegetables, and steer clear of starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta and rice.
“Create a game to see how many different vegetables you can eat in a week. Variety is important as each vegetable has a unique nutritional profile, supporting your wellbeing in a different way.”
What are the best things to eat to minimise stress and anxiety?
- “Focus on fatty acids from oily fish, as well as nuts and seeds. These are key to how our brain works.
- “It can be tempting to eat more sugar, like chocolates and biscuits, but your mental health will benefit if you replace these with whole fruit.
- “Most importantly, if you’re feeling anxious and stressed, avoid caffeine. Enjoy herbal tea or water with slices of citrus fruit instead.”
Olga Preston is also a registered nutritional therapist from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition’s Brain Bio Centre and specialises in children’s mental health.
How has the pandemic affected children’s mental health?
“We have seen an increase in anxiety, depression, OCD, fear, sleep problems and fixations with foods and/or appearance. The pandemic has worked to highlight pre-existing mental health concerns and has negatively impacted children’s development, social skills and ability to adjust to challenging situations.
What are the best nutrients for children and young adults to ease anxiety?
“Reduce their intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates. Swap gummies for berries, cakes for a nut-based granola and biscuits for oatcakes. Choose wholegrain rice, lentil or chickpea pasta, quinoa and sweet potatoes. Make sure they have fresh fruit and vegetables to snack on.
“Children’s minds need magnesium to calm down, sources of which include dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas and wholegrains. They also require B vitamins, found in meat, fish, lentils, beans, cottage cheese and nuts. Omega-3 is also essential, found in oily fish, chia seeds and flaxseeds.”
The nutritional therapists at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition believe that a personalised approach to nutrition delivers optimal results. To improve your own health, discover The Clinic at the Institute at www.ion.ac.uk/thriveclinic
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