A happy family in the kitchen having fun and cooking together. Picture: Supplied
A happy family in the kitchen having fun and cooking together. Picture: Supplied

A balanced diet is the best immune support

By Lifestyle Reporter Time of article published Apr 30, 2020

Share this article:

The threat of Covid-19 will be with us for quite some time and restrictions will be ongoing, optimising our family’s health now is top of mind for many.  
Generally, South African families are now home together for an extended period of time.  

There’s more opportunity to shift into healthy habits like cooking nutritious meals together, making healthy snacks and drinks available in the home and being physically active as a family on a daily basis.

“If it’s not already a focus of family life, this is actually an ideal time to prioritise nutrition and health,” says Retha Harmse, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA). 

“As lockdown restriction levels fluctuate; we will have more freedom of movement, but also more risks of contracting Covid-19.  Eating a balanced diet plays an important role in maintaining health and supporting the immune system, as well as all the body’s vital systems.” 

A balanced diet is the best immune support

Retha says, “everyone would like to minimise their risk of contracting Covid-19, however, there is no simple quick fix to boost our immune system to guarantee that we won’t be infected. Simply put, you cannot ‘boost’ your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you contracting Covid-19. Good hygiene practice and social distancing remains the best means of avoiding infection.”

There are many nutrients involved with the normal functioning of the immune system.  This is why maintaining a healthy balanced diet made up of different foods that provide a spectrum of nutrients that include copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D is the very best way to support immune function. “In addition to a healthy balanced diet, a general healthy lifestyle is also important to support your immune system,” says Retha, “This means not smoking, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep and very importantly, minimizing stress, which is very intense at this time.” 
Retha suggests going back to the basics of good nutrition.  

Here, she takes the South African Food Based Dietary Guidelines and shows where you can make some creative adjustments to fit the lockdown restrictions you might experience:

Enjoy a variety of foods - Although certain foods might be a bit harder to come by, don’t fall in the trap of eating only certain foods.  Variety also means including foods from two or more food groups at each meal.

Be active – Regular, moderate exercise is very beneficial for getting outdoors (if you can), stress relief and improved immune function. 
Make starchy foods part of most meals - Choose whole grain, unrefined foods to add more fibre, vitamins and minerals to your diet. Good options to choose are whole-wheat pasta, multigrain provitas or cracker breads, brown rice and bulgur wheat. Combine whole grains with other tasty, nutritious foods in mixed dishes.

Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day- This can be challenging while we are under lockdown and want to avoid frequent shopping. But you can choose fresh, whole fruit that is naturally longer lasting such as apples, pineapple and citrus fruits.

Eat fruits as snacks and desserts. Add sliced fruit or dried fruit to your cereal, muesli or yoghurt.
As some fresh vegetables don’t last long, blanche or cook them on the day of purchase and then freeze for later use

Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly - Dried legumes are not only good substitutes for meat, fish, eggs or cheese, but can also be used as affordable ‘meat extenders’ to make meals go further.  If you use canned legumes rinse them well after they have been drained to reduce the sodium content.  
  • Mash and heat up tinned cannelloni beans as the creamy base for a pasta sauce.
  • Save on your budget and make your own humus from canned chickpeas.  
  • Peanut butter can be used as a sandwich filling and can be stirred into porridge. ​


Share this article:

Related Articles