Are there any immune-boosting foods you should eat to ward off Covid-19?

We asked a trio of local health experts

24 March 2020 - 08:37 By Sanet Oberholzer
A mixed, balanced diet is advocated to keep your immune system healthy.
A mixed, balanced diet is advocated to keep your immune system healthy.
Image: 123RF/yelenayemchuk

Covid-19 has turned the world upside down. To make matters worse, there is still no anti-viral agent available to guard you against contracting the disease.

While improving your immune system as much as you can will not prevent you catching the coronavirus, the disease is hitting those who have weakened immune systems harder.

With that in mind, we asked three experts if there are specific foods that bolster immune systems. Here are their responses:

DR SUSAN LOUW

Medical practitioner and hematopathologist at the National Health Laboratory Service

Not really. A mixed and balanced diet is advocated. I’m not even a firm believer in taking vitamin supplements.

Boosting your immunity by vaccinating against the normal flu could trigger a response in the immune system to ward off illness. It will protect you against flu and stimulate your system so it can ward off infection.

There is no anti-viral agent against the novel coronavirus to protects us but it should be available within the next year.

DR ANASTACIA TOMSON

Medical doctor, author and activist

As always, the general recommendations of healthy living — making sure you are eating well, resting well and getting the recommended amount of exercise — must apply.

There are no foods that will guarantee protection against the virus, and to suggest there are is damaging and untrue.

My recommendation to all patients, whether in times of pandemic or not, is to ensure you're taking in adequate quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables to make sure that immune system has all the nutritional support it needs. This should be undertaken in conjunction with, rather than in place of, protective measures such as hand hygiene and social distancing.

JESSICA BYRNE

Registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa 

Naturally everyone would like to minimise their risk of contracting Covid-19, but there is no simple quick fix to boost your immune system to guarantee you 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 practices and social distancing remain the best means of avoiding infection.

You cannot 'boost' your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you contracting Covid-19
Jessica Byrne, registered dietitian

There are many nutrients involved in the normal functioning of the immune system, including copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D.

We therefore don't recommend any one food over another but instead encourage eating a variety of foods to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. This includes plenty of vegetables and fruit, high-fibre starchy foods, beans, lentils, fish, eggs, chicken or other meat, dairy products and plant fats.

Keeping hydrated is also important, so aim for a minimum six to eight glasses of water a day.

In addition to a balanced diet, a general healthy lifestyle is also important to support your immune system during this time. This means not smoking, doing moderate exercise regularly, getting adequate sleep and trying to minimise stress. 

It's a myth that eating garlic will prevent you from catching the coronavirus.
It's a myth that eating garlic will prevent you from catching the coronavirus.
Image: 123RF/handmadepictures

A WORD ABOUT GARLIC FROM WHO

There are rumours abounding online that eating garlic may ward off Covid-19.

On their website, the World Health Organisation sets the record straight: "Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties. However, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus."