This winter’s flu season has taken a dramatic turn with the arrival and rapid spread of the Covid-19 corona virus. A few weeks ago I highlighted some of the key nutrients we need for all-round immune support. These nutrients are essential in the fight against flu. But is there any evidence to say nutrition can help fight coronaviruses?
The short answer to this question is yes! In a fascinating paper from the US, researchers explore the interactions between compounds in foods and the way our immune system deals with RNA viruses – including coronaviruses.
The compounds in question include:
– Ferulic acid: an antioxidant found in many different plants
– Phase 2 inducers like sulforaphane (Phase 2 is one of the detoxification pathways in the liver; it requires plenty of glutathione, one of our most important antioxidant nutrients)
– The minerals zinc and selenium
– Anthocyanin compounds in Elderberry
– Phycocyanobilin in Spirulina: a type of cyanobacteria grown on freshwater lakes and sold as powder, tablets, or capsules
These compounds have multiple benefits for our immune defences, mainly through their modulating effects on immune cells and signalling molecules, and by providing powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection in the lungs and airways.
Nutrition and the elderly
A key observation of this paper is the way in which zinc and n-acetyl cysteine have been shown to support older peoples’ immune systems against ‘flu. In a small-scale 6mth controlled trial involving 262 elderly people, those receiving 600mg of n-acetyl cysteine twice a day* experienced significantly fewer days of ‘flu and spent much less time confined to their beds, compared to those taking a placebo.
And, although the rate of infection was comparable between the two groups only 25% of the virus-infected subjects in the NAC group developed symptoms, compared to 79% of those in the placebo group.
*(This is quite a high dose, and not recommended unless advised by a nutrition practitioner).
The benefits of zinc supplementation for the elderly were spotted as a by-product of another trial – the AREDS1 trial for eye health – that used a vitamin and mineral supplement with zinc in. As the authors note: “…This effect might be pertinent to the significant 27% reduction in total mortality observed in elderly subjects who received high-dose zinc in the AREDS1 multicenter trial”. It seems a supplement trial for healthy vision had an unexpected and positive effect on flu deaths!
Many older people take PPI (proton-pump inhibitor) medications like Omperazole, Lansoprazole, and Nexium, to manage acid reflux and heartburn. These drugs suppress the production of stomach acid; this can bring short-term relief from heartburn and reflux but it has a knock-on effect on nutrient absorption. Long term use of these meds can significantly impact zinc levels – and as a result, immune function. If you or someone you know has been taking PPI meds for more than 3 months, it’s a good idea to have your zinc levels assessed either with a GP or via a nutrition practitioner.
So the big question now is where to find these amazing nutrients? Here we go…
Zinc: poultry, shellfish (especially oysters – if you can stomach them!), red meat, pumpkin seeds, nuts
Selenium: Brazil nuts, shellfish, liver
Spirulina: use capsules or tablets, or add the powder to smoothies, pesto, and dark chocolate bark (this has to be the easiest and most enticing way of taking spirulina ever known)
Elderberry: keen foragers can make their own syrups. The rest of us can find it in supplements such as ‘Sambucol‘ and Pukka Herb’s Elderberry Syrup
Sulforaphane: found in cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower
Ferulic acid: widespread in foods including oats, rice, pineapple, nuts, bananas, spinach, beetroot
Keep your diet as varied and interesting as possible and if you feel the need for more personalised advice, get in touch with your local Registered Nutritional Therapist. York-people, you can find yours here!
Reference: M.F. McCarty and J.J. DiNicolantonio, 2020. Nutraceuticals have potential for boosting the type 1 interferon response to RNA viruses including including influenza and coronavirus Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2020.02.007
This delicious recipe comes from nutrition student Louise North. It’s a simple, 5-ingredient soup, packed with Good Stuff including:
Broccoli and leek provide plenty of soluble fibre. Gut bacteria ferment this fibre and produce short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are vital fuel for cells lining the gut. Clever, eh!
Broccoli (and other dark green veggies) contain quercetin, a powerful anti-inflammatory flavonoid. Research shows quercetin to be useful in managing inflammation, particularly when associated with obesity, and allergic reactions.
Broccoli comes up trumps again with its high levels of glucosinolates – sulphur containing compounds found in cruciferous vegetables. Glucosinolates are activated by an enzyme called myrosinase which converts them into isothiocyanates and indoles. Both these compounds support hormone biotransformation pathways in the liver and can be helpful for managing oestrogen levels.
The enzyme myrosinase is activated when cruciferous veggies like broccoli are chopped and diced. Let the diced broccoli sit for 10-15mins before adding it to the soup to give the enzyme time to work more effectively.
Ingredients (makes 4 servings)
2 large leeks
1 large head of broccoli
1 large onion
25g butter OR 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 litre veg stock
Wash and chop the leeks and onion. Chop the broccoli, including the stalk – no stalk wasting here! In a large pan gently heat the butter/oil and sweat the leeks and onion until soft. Add the stock and allow to simmer for ten minutes. Add the chopped broccoli and simmer until it’s al dente: cooked but not mushy. Allow the soup to cool slightly then blend until smooth – or leave a few bits in, the choice is yours!
It’s a technique of eating certain combinations of seeds during the menstrual cycle to help support hormone balance.
Many women say seed cycling relieves PMS symptoms and helps maintain a more regular cycle. It’s an easy technique to practise – so long as you enjoy eating seeds!
How seed cycling works
Based on an average cycle length of 28-30 days, the pattern for eating the seeds goes like this:
The plan is based upon the idea that the different nutritional qualities of the seeds support the variations in hormone levels over the course of the month. But, is it really necessary to seperate the seeds out like this? Does it matter if you eat a mixture of each seeds every day?
To date, there are no research trials looking at the impact of seed cycling. However, there are several studies examining the nutritional qualities and actions of some of these seeds individually – particularly flaxseed. Flax is packed with nutrients (see below) that can be incredibly helpful when dealing with PMS symptoms or perimenopausal hormone fluctuations.
How are the seeds helpful?
Flax: contains high levels of compounds called lignans. Our beneficial gut bacteria can convert these lignans into phytoestrogen compounds which have a modulating effect on oestrogen receptors. When natural oestrogen levels are too low, phytoestrogens can support them. At the other end of the scale, if you’re oestrogen dominant (which is often the case in endometriosis, PMT, PCOS, and early perimenopause) the phytoestrogens block the actions of natural oestrogen, helping to reduce its activity. Alongside the lignans, flax provides protein and the omega-3 essentail fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which converts into anti-inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins.
*Flax is best eaten ground as the tiny seeds are difficult to chew and can pass straight on through your digestion!
Pumpkin: excellent source of omega-3 ALA, zinc, magnesium, fibre, and protein.
Sesame seeds: naturally rich in calcium to support bone health and may also relieve some symptoms of PMS.
Sunflower seeds: packed with vitamin E; a powerful antioxidant and shown to help relieve hot flushes in perimenopausal women.
Seed cycling or seeds everyday?
There’s no firm agreement on this question. If you are keen to try seed cycling, go for it! If you are new to eating seeds start with 1/2 a tablespoon of each seed and work up to the full tablespoon to give your digestive system time to adjust to the increase in fibre intake.
If seed cycling sounds a bit too much like hard work, keep things simple and focus on including ground flaxseed each day instead. However you decide to include more seeds, remember to increase your water intake too. These seeds are rich in fibre that soaks up fluid in the digestive tract and keeps waste matter moving steadily along. More water is essential to prevent the seeds causing constipation!
How to include the seeds in your diet
Smoothies – blend the ground seeds with fruit, dairy or non-dairy milk, veggies, and a dollop of nut butter for a satisfying smoothie
Salads – sprinkle them into salads made up of a mixture of roasted veggies, salad leaves, meat or fish or egg, lentil pate, and a couple of tablespoons of a grain such as brown rice or buckwheat
Add to yoghurt and fruit for a snack
Mix with quinoa, cooked lentils, egg, baby tomatoes, chopped herbs, and a handful of baby spinach for a protein-rich lunch
Mix with chopped dried apricot, raisins, nuts and coconut flakes as a trail-mix-style snack
Add to homemade bread, muffins – or try this Menopause Cake recipe – yes, cake really can help you get through menopause!
Have you tried seed cycling?
What are your favourite tips for using seeds in recipes?
Share your ideas and discover more tips over in the Facebook group – Nutrition in York!
Our immune systems get a real workout at this time of year with cold, flu’, and tummy bug germs thriving in warm, dry, centrally heated homes and offices. It’s a good idea to top up on immune-supporting nutrients to give your system the best chance of fending off these invaders as much as possible.
Here are 4 simple ways to nourish your immune system this winter…
Need more? Try these too:
– Vitamin C has powerful anti-viral action, particularly against the flu’ viruses. Food sources include watercress, peppers, kiwi, berries, peas, parsley, broccoli, and lemons. If you’re at high risk of infection consider using at least 1000mg per day of ascorbic acid or Ester-C.
– Zinc may help to reduce the severity and shorten the duration of colds. Food sources include poultry (chicken soup really can work wonders), pumpkin seeds, red meat, and cashew nuts. Zinc citrate lozenges are a quick way to boost levels and helpful at the first tingles of a cold.
– Echinacea has a long history of traditional use for respiratory infections like colds and flu’. Go for an organic whole herb extract that contains the natural balance of active compounds; A.Vogel do tinctures, tablets and a throat spray in their excellent ‘Echinaforce‘ range. It’s a winter staple in my remedy cupboard!
Do you have a favourite cold and flu’ remedy? Come and tell us over in the Facebook group and find out more winter health tips and nourishing recipes!
Over 250,000 people participated in Veganuary 2019 (a massive increase from the 3,300 who participated in 2014) and 2020 is set to be even bigger.
Done properly, a plant-based diet can provide nearly all the nutrients we need to thrive. I say “nearly all” because of the vitamin B12 conundrum – more on that later. Done badly, a vegan diet is the same as any other poor diet.
As a nutritionist I come across all kinds of diets. Vegan, juice fasts, raw food, keto, Paleo, Hay (eating proteins at a different time to carbs, not chewing on actual hay…though no doubt someone will one day, and probably make a ton of money from the idea) – and people ask my opinion of them.
When it comes to veganism, I think it’s great for many people so long as it’s done properly and involves eating real food. I have several vegan friends and colleagues, including the brilliant nutritionist Elena Holmes, who epitomises the healthy vegan lifestyle.
However, a vegan diet is not;
– The answer to our environmental and food sustainability issues
– The cure for every known health issue
– Easy to follow. This is especially true if you dislike vegetables and pulses. And I have met vegans who don’t like vegetables. Good luck with that.
There are certain nutrients that a wholly plant-based diet can struggle to provide and you may need to consider supplementation to side-step any deficiencies. Remember that some deficiencies can take months, even years to present with full on symptoms. Vitamin B12 is a good example of this. You may have good bodily stores of B12 when you begin a vegan diet, and these stores can keep you going for several months before they drop and you start to notice symptoms like tiredness, brain fog, and poor memory.
The most bioavailable form of B12 is unique to animal products. It plays an important role in mental wellbeing, heart health, nerve cells, and red blood cell function.
Top sources include shellfish, lamb, and beef (there’s an interesting list on Nutrition Data: it’s a US site, hence the inclusion of moose meat – not a common source for those of us in the UK!).
Many foods suitable for vegans are fortified with B12; nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals for example. Certain plant foods do naturally contain B12, the most notable being the sea vegetables green and purple nori. Studies have shown that eating these forms of nori can improve B12 status, though you would need to eat substantial amounts every day to support levels in the long term. Same goes for shiitake mushrooms. Of all the edible mushrooms, shiitake carries good levels of B12 but you would still need to eat an average of 50g (dried weight) per day to maintain levels. That’s a whole lot of mushrooms. To be on the safe side, include these foods regularly and consider using a B12 supplement if you plan to be wholly plant-based for more than a few months.
Spirulina and other edible cyanobacterias (commonly called blue-green algaes) contain pseudovitamin B12 which isn’t bioavailable to us as humans. We can’t absorb it or use it so please don’t be fooled by advertisements claiming otherwise.
Iron – haem and non-haem
Iron deficiency is a particular issue for female vegans due to regular iron loss from periods. Haem iron in animal products is much better absorbed than non-haem iron from plant sources. If you are relying on non-haem iron, be sure to include sources of vitamin C too, as this helps the absorption and usage of plant-sourced iron.
Good combinations include;
– Millet grain (iron) in a salad with vit-C-rich-foods like watercress, parsley, and peppers
– Blackstrap molasses (iron) in hot water with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice (vit C)
– Pumpkin & sunflower seeds (iron) in a fruit salad with papaya, kiwi, and strawberries (all good sources of vit C)
Many of us, whether vegan or not, are low in vitamin D simply because we don’t get enough regular sunshine here in the UK. Unfortunately for vegans, the optimum dietary sources of vitamin D3 (the most active usable form) are eggs, liver and butter, with plant sources like mushrooms providing a little D2.
It is advisable for everyone to take a supplement during winter months (October to April) and vegans may need to continue all year round. To check your levels, see your GP or try a home test kit from www.vitamindtest.org.uk
Vegetarian and vegan diets tend to have plenty of omega-6, but often struggle with omega-3. Nuts and seeds provide what is known as the ‘parent’ omega 3 fat, Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA). This needs to go through several conversion steps before it becomes EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). These are the omega-3 fats we use for brain and heart health, and which are ready formed in fish oils.
These conversion steps rely on co-factor nutrients like magnesium, B-vitamins, zinc, and vitamin C, and a lot of ALA gets lost during the process. There isn’t an easy answer to this dilemma, other than to ensure vegans include walnuts, flaxseed oil, and/or pumpkinseed oil everyday for their rich ALA content, and to enjoy plenty of food sources of the co-factor nutrients too;
– Magnesium: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, dark green leafy vegetables
– Zinc: nuts & seeds
– B-vitamins: widely spread throughout the plant kingdom; sweet potatoes, brown rice, avocadoes, nuts, seeds, and dark green leafy veggies are especially useful
– Vit C: watercress, peppers, broccoli, berries, kiwi, papaya, peas
Are you experimenting with Veganuary this year?
Have you a delicious vegan recipe to share?
Tell us in the comments below, hop on over to the friendly Facebook Group for more conversations and recipe ideas or catch me on Twitter @nutritioninyork