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Eating during a pandemic: foods that boost your immune system

Here at Lexington, we’ve always taken pride in filling plates with healthy, delicious, environmentally conscious food so that we can all be our most productive selves!

As most of us hunker down in our homes to work, we’re determined to continue what we do best – so we’re serving up a list of foodie tips to keep you nourished during this time when staying healthy is more important than ever.

We’ve got some tips from our resident nutritionist, Will Cook, on what to eat to give yourself the best chance of staying fighting fit over the next few weeks!

Eating to support your immune system

‘It’s widely recognised that a healthy immune system is important to help keep you fit and healthy and give your body the best chance of fighting off any illnesses’, says Will.

Narrowing down immune system booster foods is all about what nutrients they contain. Nutrients that are important for supporting your immune system include:

Vitamin C

Found in fruits and vegetables.  Good sources include oranges, red and green peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, potatoes.

WILL’S TOP TIP: ‘Remember tinned and frozen varieties all count towards your 5 A Day and are still great sources of Vitamin C- perfect if you are looking to store a supply of healthy ingredients at home indefinitely!’

Folate

Great sources include broccoli, leafy green vegetables, peas, chickpeas, fortified breakfast cereals

Iron

‘There are two main types of iron’ explains Will, ‘Haem Iron that is found in meat and fish which is easily absorbed and Non-Haem Iron, less easily absorbed but still beneficial and that is found in beans, nuts, dried fruit, wholegrain cereals, fortified breakfast cereals and dark green leafy vegetables’

WILL’S TOP TIP: ‘Vitamin C rich foods, for example orange juice, help the body absorb non-haem iron from food.  Try to avoid tea one hour either side of meals as it reduces the body’s absorption of non-haem iron’

Vitamin D

From early April until the end of September we’ll be getting most Vitamin D needed from the sunshine but until then (and while we’re spending a lot of time inside!) get some vitamin D rich foods into your diet, such as oily fish, red meat, eggs and fortified foods including fat spreads and some breakfast cereals. 

WILL’S TOP TIP: The Department of Health recommends that adults consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter.  If it is safe, from April onwards, try to expose your skin to the sunlight to top up your vitamin D levels. 

Zinc

Good sources include meat, shellfish, dairy foods, bread and cereal products. 

WILL’S TOP TIP: The Department of Health advice is no to take any more than 25mg of zinc supplements a day unless advised by a doctor. Taking too much zinc can be harmful and stops your body absorbing other essential nutrients. 

Feeding your gut bacteria

Our gut bacteria are important and do lots of great things for us, including protecting us from the bad bacteria by increasing levels of friendly bacteria helps protect against their dangerous relatives that can cause disease and stimulating infection fighting cells

Will’s tips for supporting your gut bacteria include:

Fibre, fibre, fibre!

Fibre rich foods such as legumes, pulses, beans and artichoke all contain prebiotics that our gut bacteria feed on. Although not all fibre-rich foods contain prebiotics we can all benefit from consuming more fibre, but you may need to increase your intake slowly over time.

Keep reading for a fibre-filled recipe to come!

Mix it up!

Try to eat as many different types of plant-based foods as possible. Nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals (particularly ‘ancient’ grains) are all important. The wider variety of foods you eat the wider the diversity of your gut bacteria!

Embrace fermented

Fermented foods such as yogurt (stick to varieties that contain live cultures), kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut contain a wide range of bacteria and are beneficial for the health of our guts.

Stop stockpiling pasta and make the most of ALL your ingredients

Versatility plays a big part in staying healthy (and sane). We all love a carbonara but mix it up! Other long life ingredients that should have a place in your cupboard include:

Long grain rice

Couscous / Bulgar wheat

Curry pastes

Tinned or powdered coconut milk

Tinned & dried pulses

Chopped & Peeled plum tomatoes

Dried herbs (these could replace fresh if required)

Tinned fruits in juice

Ambient pouches or canned tuna

Tinned sweetcorn

Frozen fruits

WILL’S FINAL TOP TIP: ‘If you do get sick, it is worth having some easy snacks and meals to cook and prepare foods in the house on standby – canned soups, microwavable rice and frozen ready meals are easy options that you can keep in stock if you don’t have the energy to prepare more complex recipes.’

Why not try to recreate our recipe for…

Flat bread & hummus!

This is an easy snack to prepare in any sized kitchen, using items that you might have lying around in the cupboards right now. The flat bread recipe is quick and easy to make, should you not be able to get your hands on supermarket bread over the next few weeks. (Will would also be pleased to hear that you’re eating it with hummus, 1 cup of chickpeas contains about 12.5g of fibre!)

You will need:

2 cups plain all-purpose flour (ideally wholemeal)

1 regular size tin of chickpeas (butter beans also work)

Adding other flavours is up to you, have a dig around the cupboards and fridge!

I.e. Roast peppers / coriander/parsley

Extra Virgin Olive oil

Flat based pan or oven tray

A little pomace/olive oil

A touch of salt (optional)

To prepare:

Open your tin of chickpeas and reserve all the water in a separate container.

Place the chickpeas in a food processor if you have one, or use a stick blender, if not you will need to crush by hand in a large bowl.

‘I like to add salt, garlic, tahini & ground cumin but it’s up to you whatever you fancy.’ – Tom

Blend or crush the chickpeas until they look as though they have broken down as much as they can, at this point add olive oil to help gradually bring the mixture to a smooth consistency (‘I like mine a bit coarse. If you want a smooth hummus add a little of the chickpea water and blend more’).

That’s the hummus part done, taste as you go and add a bit more spice or salt if you prefer.

Now for the flat bread, place your flour in a mixing bowl, add a pinch of salt & some dried mixed herbs.

Mix by hand to combine the above then gradually start adding the chickpea water you kept back earlier. Mix until a dough forms, if you need to then add a little tap water.

Turn the mix out onto a floured surface, break off small amounts and using a rolling pin (or alternatively a roll of cling film) roll out the mix until it’s about 2-3 mm thick. But be careful not to roll out bigger than your pan or tray.

Get your flat pan onto a medium heat, place the flat bread in the pan, there’s no need to oil the pan, gently lift with a spatula or spoon every 10 seconds. When the underside has gently browned the flip and repeat.

Alternatively place the raw flatbread on a lightly oiled tray into an oven preheat to 180c or gas mark 5/6. Remove from the oven when gently browned.

Allow for the bread to cool a little but its best eaten warm, tear and dip or spread the hummus on the bread and top with – whatever you fancy!