SALT LAKE CITY — While it’s tempting to munch on chips and cookies all day when you’re working from home, dieticians are saying now is the time to forgo the junk food and make healthy dietary choices a priority.
Intermountain Healthcare’s Elizabeth Hill, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Cedar City Hospital, said right now a lot people are feeling a sense of panic or emergency and are anxious to do everything they can to keep their families healthy.
She said although eating healthy foods won’t necessarily prevent people from getting the coronavirus, there are five vitamins Utahns can start incorporating into their diet to boost their immune systems.
"That does not mean that there's a magic pill or a supplement you can take that’s going to keep you from getting COVID-19," she explained. "But there are things you can do and foods you can eat that can really help with your immune system."
Hill said these five vitamins are specifically catered to building and sustaining immune function and are best obtained through fresh food because of the bioavailability found in fruits and vegetables.
Top of the list for Hill, and probably best known is vitamin C. Hill said it’s essential to forming antibodies in the body. She said antibodies "are important because they are the direct (proteins) in our bodies that fight against infection and bacteria coming in."
Fresh citrus like oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines are loaded with vitamin C, as well as red bell peppers, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice and even broccoli.
Hill said vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protects against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy.
"One of the symptoms of COVID-19 is respiratory issues, and so if you can preventatively get your respiratory system in tip-top shape that will be helpful overall," Hill explained.
Foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, red bell peppers, apricots, spinach and broccoli are high in vitamin A. "All really delicious things that we can find available in the stores," Hill said.
She also said some food like milk and cereals are also fortified with the vitamin. Hill said now more than ever it’s important for people to thoroughly wash and peel vegetables with skins to get rid of germs.
The body uses vitamin D to fight off bacteria and viruses, in addition to maintaining strong bones by assisting in calcium absorption.
"Having an immune system that is strong and ready to fight any virus anytime is important," Hill said.
Although vitamin D is naturally only found in a few foods like salmon and mushrooms, it is also often found in fortified milk, cereal, breads and orange juice.
Hill added that although people can also get vitamin D from the sun, it’s important to get it through food. "A lot of us, especially in Utah in the winter, are low in vitamin D, so amping up on those foods is important," she suggested.
Hill says vitamin E is an essential antioxidant, which fights against cell damage.
"We find this in more of the plant-based foods, like sunflower seeds, peanut butter, almonds," she said. "If you can kind of branch out and try some of those products, you'll be getting some different vitamins and you're used to getting in your daily habits."
Zinc is found in lean meats, seafood, beans, seeds and nuts and is also added to milk and whole grains. Zinc is another antioxidant which boosts the metabolism and helps wounds heal.
At a time many people feel like so much is out of their control during uncertain times, Hill encourages people to take charge of their health.
"We can really try to focus on what we can control, and that is going to be what we can eat, how our bodies feel, ways that we can feel de-stressed through exercise," she said. Hill said physical activity, getting enough sleep, and finding ways to reduce stress through mindfulness activities can also boost the immune system.
Hill said lots of people have been stocking up on dry goods like flour and pasta, leaving empty shelves in lots of grocery stores. She reminds people to instead turn to fresh fruits and veggies. "The produce is there. It's been there all along," she said, and also urges people to include prebiotics and probiotics in their diets as well.
She also encourages people to try new recipes together as a family with foods they’ve never tried, or to start meal prepping to include those vitamins in their diets.
"Utilize this time when you're home and when you don't have the restrictions that you might normally have on time," she suggested.