SCIO Community Magazine
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Nutrition and COVID-19

Staying healthy, washing your hands and social distancing are on all our minds right now. Over the past several weeks, I have also been inundated with questions on what are the best foods and vitamins to help support the immune system. Immune support during this time is critical to our community.

According to the Christopher Reeve Foundation, people with SCI are at increased risk of contracting the virus and having worse cases for a multitude of reasons, such as:

  • Immunosuppression – as a direct result of our SCI our bodies do not respond to bacteria and viruses as strongly as they did pre-injury.
  • Secondary health complications – we are at higher risk of having conditions such as diabetes, pressure sores and urinary tract infections, which place additional burden on our immune system.
  • Paralysis/weakness of abdominal muscles – this decreases our ability to effectively cough and clear the lungs of debris.

Eating a balanced diet is not going to prevent you from getting COVID 19, but if you get it you want to have the strongest immune system possible to help yourself fight it. So, here are my top recommendations of nutrients to load up on to help optimize your immune function.

  • Vitamin A is a natural antiviral and helps enhance activity of white blood cells.
  • Vitamin C helps activate neutrophils, powerful white blood cells that work on our frontline defense. It also increases the production of lymphocytes, the white blood cells that play important roles in antibody production and co-ordinating immune system functions.
  • Zinc enhances immune function and the activity of white blood cells.
  • Vitamin D is an immune modulator. More and more research shows it positively influences the immune system.
  • Probiotics 70% of your immune system surrounds your gut. Ingesting probiotics (healthy bacteria) supports immunity.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids is a natural anti-inflammatory. COVID-19 causes a cytokine storm. Cytokines are inflammatory molecules which can cause tissue damage, including the lungs where this virus targets.

""Given that we’re limiting our trips to the grocery store, I suggest sticking to nonperishable basics in canned or frozen form. Frozen fruits and vegetables have almost equal nutrient levels as fresh, and canned legumes are an inexpensive and fantastic source of protein and fibre. Below is my recommended shopping list that contains the nutrients listed above:

✓ frozen berries
✓ frozen broccoli or other favourite frozen vegetables
✓ whole grain bread – sliced and frozen
✓ whole grain pasta
✓ lemons
✓ ginger
✓ garlic
✓ turmeric
✓ almonds
✓ canned chickpeas
✓ canned lentil soups
✓ frozen salmon
✓ frozen chicken
✓ pumpkin seeds
✓ protein powder
✓ mushrooms
✓ plain yogurt
✓ butter
✓ olive oil 


Anti-inflammatory/Immune-boosting Tea

6-8 cups of water
1 green tea bag
1 lemon, cut in half
1 tsp turmeric
1-2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 inch fresh ginger root

Add all ingredients to large pot of water, including lemon halves. Bring to boil, let simmer for minimum 10 minutes. Enjoy hot or cold.

Joanne Smith is a dietitian specializing in nutrition for people with disabilities, and owner of Fruitful Elements,

Joanne Smith | Spring 2020

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