Right now, a trip to the shops can take more planning as they are less frequent and options may be limited.
Now more than ever, our health should be a top priority. This means making choices to nurture our bodies.
Starches and sugars may fill our bellies, but we may be lacking many important nutrients that support overall health, including the health of the immune system.
Nutrients We Need More Of
- Fibre – Best known for helping with regularity, high fibre foods are filling and relatively low in calories, making them one of the best allies when it comes to weight management. Certain fibres can also encourage the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in your digestive tract. These beneficial bacteria help support immunity because they serve as an initial line of defense, by crowding out potentially harmful bacteria that might enter the digestive tract. You can get more fibre by including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Use fruits and veggies as snacks, add them to smoothies, sandwiches, salads, soups and stews, and replace refined grains with whole grains.
- Magnesium – While it’s not a mineral we typically think about, magnesium contributes to hundreds of bodily functions. Magnesium supports the health of your immune and nervous systems, supports muscle function, and assists your cells in producing energy. Magnesium is abundant in plant foods like leafy greens, nuts, beans and whole grains, so try snacking on nuts, or toss some beans into a leafy green salad.
- Vitamin D – Most people associate calcium with healthy bones, but your bones need Vitamin D too, since it helps your body absorb calcium from your diet. Vitamin D is also needed for proper muscle function and supports the activity of the immune system. Good dietary sources of Vitamin D include eggs and fortified dairy products; a daily walk outside can help too, since your body produces Vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
- Potassium – This mineral supports the function of nerves and muscles and helps regulate blood pressure. Potassium also supports chemical reactions in the body that generate energy from food. One reason many people don’t get enough potassium is because they don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables – the most abundant sources of this important mineral.
Many women also don’t get enough calcium or iron:
- Calcium – Calcium is critically important for bone health. Adults need at least 1,000 mg of calcium each day, or the amount found in three glasses of milk. However, many women don’t eat enough dairy products, either because they simply choose to avoid them, are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, or because they are sensitive to lactose. However, calcium can also be obtained from leafy green vegetables and some fortified foods.
- Iron – One of iron’s key functions is to support the transport of oxygen to cells and tissues. Women who are premenopausal lose iron routinely with their monthly cycle, which is why it is so important to ensure they have adequate intake. Meat is an excellent source of iron, but those on a plant-based diet can obtain iron from beans and fortified cereals.
Eating for Wellness
Most of these nutrients can be found in foods that are easy to buy in bulk and maintain a long shelf life.
Dry goods like oatmeal, lentils and whole grain pastas and cereals can be great sources of fibre, iron and magnesium, and some cereals are also fortified with Vitamin D. The most important feature is to ensure that you’re buying “whole grain” to get the full benefit, so read labels carefully.
Produce that lasts the longest includes apples, citrus, onions, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts and carrots. Frozen fruit and veggies pack the same nutritional punch as their fresh counterparts, and are great sources of fibre and potassium. A single carrot provides a days’ worth of beta-carotene, which helps protect the health of cells, including cells in the immune system. The body also converts beta-carotene to Vitamin A which supports the health of the skin, including the specialised immune cells that reside there.
Finally, fermented foods are also great options that provide beneficial probiotics (the ‘good bacteria’) to the digestive system. Some fermented foods, like tempeh or Greek yogurt, are also excellent sources of plant-based protein (and yogurt is a great source of calcium) and both foods have relatively long shelf lives. Protein supports immune function in a number of ways – among them, the body uses protein to manufacture antibodies, and protein supports the health of the skin and the cells lining the digestive and respiratory tracts.
How Supplements Can Help
A well-balanced diet should provide the essential nutrients to optimise your body’s healthy functions. However, no one eats perfectly every day – particularly when our usual foods may not be as readily available. This is when the right supplementation can really help. For example, if you can’t get the recommended 25g of fibre from fruit, vegetables and whole grains, or enough calcium from your usual foods, you can work in fibre or calcium supplements. A daily multi-vitamin or the use of fortified foods – like cereals or meal replacement shakes or bars – can help supply the vitamins and minerals your body needs to perform at its best.
Use this time to your advantage to take care of yourself and your body. Plan out your grocery list and stock your freezer, refrigerator and cupboards with healthy staples. Focus on the important nutrients you may need to increase in your diet and choose foods accordingly.
By SUSAN BOWERMAN
MS, RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND,
Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training, Herbalife Nutrition.