By Claire Smith, Health and Fitness Tutor for The Training Room
There’s no denying that the Covid-19 pandemic has put our nutrition back into focus. More than ever, people are appreciating the relationship between a healthy diet and a strong immune system.
According to the global market research firm, Mintel, almost two in five (37%) Brits say the COVID-19 outbreak has prompted them to add more nutrients that support the immune system to their diet. Close to a quarter (23%) say they are eating more fruit and vegetables since the start of the outbreak.
It’s clear that people are taking a more holistic approach to their wellbeing, recognising that healthy and nutrition-dense foods can be leveraged to enhance physical, mental and emotional health.
As personal trainers, we need to be aware of this change in attitude, helping clients find ways to improve their diets which, in turn, will raise their immunity and offer them greater protection from Covid-19 and other illnesses, both now and in the future. With this in mind, it can be a real advantage to upskill and add ‘Certified Nutrition Coach’ to your resume.
As the country starts to reopen, and we begin heading back into social environments, clients will be keen to ensure their immune systems are firing on all cylinders. A great place for them to start is by adding these seven “immune boosters” to their shopping lists and incorporating them into their weekly meal plans…
- Citrus fruits
Most people dial up their vitamin C in response to catching a cold. That’s because it helps to charge up their immune system.
This is backed by research showing that vitamin C encourages the body to produce white blood cells (lymphocytes and phagocytes) which help protect it against infection. On the other hand, vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections.
Interestingly, a study shows that vitamin C appears to have even greater effects for people exposed to brief periods of severe physical exercise. In fact, vitamin C almost halved the duration of a common cold for runners and skiers. Particularly useful to know if you’re a PT who works with athletes or in elite performance!
So, what’s the right amount? Adults aged 19 to 64 need 40mg of vitamin C a day and, the good news is, almost all citrus fruits (including oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes) contain high quantities. Other good sources include blackcurrants, strawberries, brussels sprouts, spinach, and even the humble potato! With so many foods to choose from, it’s easy for your clients to add a squeeze of vit-c to their meals throughout the day.
While vitamin C can speed up the recovery from a cold, bear in mind that there’s no evidence as yet to show that it’s effective against Covid-19.
Although it tends to play second fiddle to vitamin C when it comes to fighting off colds, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that is vital for regulating and maintaining a healthy immune system.
Because it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, it needs the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts, such as almonds (bearing in mind allergies), are full of vitamin E and also have healthy fats – making them a great snack or garnish.
Research suggests that almond skins improve the immune surveillance towards viral infection and help trigger a response. These nifty little nuts can also help reduce LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.
If you have a nut allergy, sunflower seeds are a great, alternative source of vitamins E and B-6. They’re also packed full of nutrients, including phosphorus and magnesium, and are incredibly high in selenium which is essential for the proper functioning of your body. Other foods with high amounts of vitamin E include avocados and dark, leafy greens.
Don’t be fooled by its appearance, broccoli is one supercharged veg, loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. High in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, fibre, and an array of vitamins including A, B (B1, B2, B3, and B6), C, and E, it’s one of the healthiest, immunity-enhancing vegetables your clients can put on their plates.
To keep its power intact, cook it as little as possible – or, better yet, eat it raw! Research has shown that steaming is the best method for keeping nutrients in food.
- Matcha green tea
Matcha green tea is very much in vogue, and it would appear for good reason. Where it excels is in its levels of Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant that assists the body’s production of T-Cells which reduce inflammation and fight pathogens – making it a top immune system booster!
One study suggests that Matcha contains at least 3 times the amount of EGCG as popular varieties of green tea! EGCC has also been shown by various studies to have cancer fighting effects, which is yet another benefit of drinking green tea and, in particular, Matcha.
Matcha is also a good source of the amino acid, L-theanine, which may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T cells while also promoting a state of calm and wellbeing. Research has shown that when L-theanine is combined with caffeine, another chemical found in Matcha, it can induce a positive state of relaxed alertness.
Because of the various compounds Matcha contains that can help to improve health, reduce stress, and increase cognitive performance, many people are using it as an alternative to coffee; the perfect brew for our busy, overstimulated world.
When choosing yoghurts from the dairy aisle, ensure your clients look for labels with “live and active cultures” which can help to stimulate their immune systems and fight diseases.
Encourage them to buy plain yoghurts rather than ones that are flavoured and crammed with sugar. Plain yoghurt can easily be sweetened with some healthy fruits and a drizzle of honey. Perhaps your clients could add a sprinkle of almonds, as mentioned earlier!
Yoghurt can provide a healthy hit of vitamin D, so clients should look for the brands that are fortified with it. As well as helping to regulate the immune system, vitamin D is also thought to increase the body’s natural defences against diseases. Clinical trials are even underway to investigate its possible effects on Covid-19.
Shellfish doesn’t exactly spring to mind when thinking about foods to build immunity, but some types of shellfish, including crab, oysters, lobster, and mussels, are loaded with zinc.
Zinc doesn’t grab as much of the limelight as other vitamins and minerals, yet we need it for our immune cells to function as intended. The amount of zinc you need is about 9.5mg a day for men (aged 19 to 64) and 7mg a day for women. Be mindful, however, that too much zinc can inhibit immune system function.
For clients that don’t eat shellfish because of taste or preference, there are many great alternatives. Poultry, vegetables (like mushrooms and kale), legumes (like chickpeas, lentils and beans), milk, fortified breakfast cereals, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, and even dark chocolate (saving the best till last!) all provide a welcome dose of zinc to boost immunity.
Love Indian food? Then you’re probably already a fan of turmeric, given that it’s a key ingredient in many curries. This bright yellow, bitter spice is an anti-inflammatory that, for years, has been used to treat both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
From a physical standpoint, a study found that consuming curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive colour, can help to improve biological inflammation which may translate to faster recovery from exercise and improve functional capacity during subsequent sessions. The better we can train, the better the outcome for our immune systems!
Studies show that curcumin has promise as an immune booster, therapy for immune disorders and an antiviral. Even though more research is needed, adding some turmeric to your diets seems like a smart move.
By adding these seven foods to their meals and nutrition plans, your clients will be on the road to stronger immunity and better health. The only thing left to do is get cooking!
Become a Certified Nutrition Coach!
The Training Room has recently launched its Level 4 Certificate in Nutrition for Weight Management and Athletic Performance qualification. It provides learners with the skills, knowledge and competence to provide nutritional support, either as a nutrition coach or as part of their offering as a PT. Upon completion of the course, students will qualify with a TQUK Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Nutrition and Health and a Focus Awards Level 4 Certificate in Nutrition for Weight Management and Athletic Performance. To find out more, click here: