Things are getting weird. With COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders, it’s easy to feel like life, and maybe even your health, is spiraling out of control.
I caught up with nutritionist Wilfredo Benitez to find out what we can do to optimize our nutrition during this time to prevent illness and promote overall health.
“We have all been affected by this COVID-19 pandemic, some way more than others, and we all want it to go away as quickly as possible,” Benitez says. “To do this, we need to optimize our health and control what we can control. You can choose to take this time to eat ultra-processed foods more because you’re home and lounging, or you can use this time to continue to take care of your body, keep your immune system strong, and optimize health to your overall effort in combating this global disease.”
According to Benitez, it is our social responsibility to nourish our bodies with the nutrients that keep our immune system strong while also making the extra effort to include foods with antiviral properties to stave off this virus as best we can.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant with a well-earned reputation in boosting immunity and fighting illness. According to Benitez, the primary function is to help reduce oxidative stress by preventing damage by free radicals, which makes it helpful in warding off illness and fighting it once you are already sick,
Foods rich in Vitamin C include bell peppers, papaya, cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower), strawberries, pineapple, sweet potatoes, carrots, and of course, citrus fruits.
When talking to Benitez, he said it would be criminal to exclude garlic from any conversation regarding nutrition and immunity. While he believes all food is medicine, Benitez was excited to tell me that garlic in particular has been regularly used as medicine for thousands of years. It’s helped our species survive worse pandemics, and he is sure garlic can help fight COVID-19.
Benitez advises we make a habit of eating garlic raw, ingesting one to two cloves per day. To get the most bang for your buck, you can suck on the clove and extract the oils via the enzymes in your saliva, or you can chew the cloves as you would any other food. From what I have personally experienced eating raw garlic, you may experience an upset stomach in the few minutes following. Chugging water and taking an antacid can help ease some of that discomfort. In my experience, stomach distress passes quickly after eating raw garlic, and it is well worth it!
It may also be beneficial to eat with 1/2 – 1 tbsp of raw (preferably local) honey, mainly for honey’s added antiviral properties, but also to help with the taste. Consider eating honey raw or adding to stir-fry, roasted vegetables or meat dishes, cooked grains, in soups, etc. If you prefer to cook your garlic before it’s consumed, chop and let sit for five to ten minutes, so its nutrients become more tolerant of the heat.
Herbs and Botanicals
Did you know that our prescription drugs—you know, western medicine—have origins in herbal medicine?
Benitez was excited to tell me that many plants, like garlic, can be highly medicinal, and we would be wise to use those plants to help boost our immunity.
According to Benitez, botanicals like elderberry, lomatium, echinacea, lemon balm, ginger, oregano, and St. John’s wort (Hypercium perfatorum) can be most helpful in aiding our fight against COVID-19. They all have potent antiviral properties, and you can find many of these botanicals in liquid extract form, dried form, or in essential oil form. Benitez recommends Gaia Herbs or Mountain Botanicals when shopping for herbal medicines.
If you are taking medications, have a history of physical or mental illness, or are currently ill, talk to your doctor before experimenting with herbal medicine.