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Boost immune system to avoid contagion.

THIS column was supposed to be about the delights and perils of eating out in Zimbabwe’s restaurants and cafes, but with the unwelcome arrival of COVID-19, descriptions of sumptuous steaks and ravishing road runner stews have become irrelevant. Restaurants are closing their doors one after the other, and the time has come to stay at home and to consider ways to boost your immune system, thereby minimising the effects of contagion.

Foods to boost immune system.

The immune system is a network of cells and tissues spread throughout the body, always on the alert for invading viruses, and vital for keeping us healthy. There are many ways to maintain a strong immune system, starting with good personal hygiene and frequent hand washing.

Eating nourishing foods rich in vitamins can also help your immune system fight off illness, so stave off hunger pains with tasty dishes made from fruit, vegetables and small grains, rather than putting a frozen pizza into the oven, or deep frying a mountain of chips. Oranges and naartjies aren’t yet in season, but broccoli, kale and spinach are a great source of vitamin C, helping the body to launch an effective immune system. Sweet potatoes and carrots can be prepared in many delicious ways and have many health benefits.

Fermented foods such as maas, yoghurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) increase the good bacteria living in your gut, protecting against disease and viruses.

Myths are circulating about the consumption of garlic, lemons and kale, claiming that these are magic foods, capable of protecting you from coronavirus. While they are all useful foods, they merely contribute to a healthy immune system. Garlic can reduce the symptoms of a common cold, so if you enjoy cooking with it and love the flavour, chop up and crisp fry several cloves of garlic when preparing a sauce for your pasta. You’re probably working from home, so the sulphurous, anti-social smell of your breath won’t affect any colleagues in the work place.

Exercise helps your body to fight off infections, so if you spend hours hunched over your computer, or curled up on the sofa watching TV, it’s likely that ‘a change is gonna come’. As an avowed couch potato, I’ve recently taken to awaking at 5.30 am, and taking a brisk walk to the corner of the road – a mere 500 metres. At this hour, security guards are cycling home after the night shift, and an occasional health fanatic in running gear and Adidas shoes can be seen jogging effortlessly up the hill. If you’re elderly, confined to your house, and new to exercise, try out the The Body Coach for Seniors, with John Wicks, on YouTube.

Managing stress at this time is vital. If you have internet, keep in touch with friends and family on WhatsApp, Skype and Facetime. Limit watching the news on TV to an hour a day, and enjoy a comedy rather than watching a murder mystery or a series about dysfunctional families and blighted relationships. Tyler Perry camping it up as Madea will have you laughing out loud, and if you appreciate a profane sense of humour, there’s always Kevin Hart.

Exercise is also an antidote for stress. Jogging, swimming and gardening are all recommended, but what could be more fun than playing your favourite reggae or Cuban funk numbers, and dancing around the coffee table with your kids, or with your partner. A workout of at least 15 minutes a day will make a difference, and equip you with the energy to wash up the dishes from breakfast and lunch, or to prepare for that important Skype session with your boss, who’s expecting information about the projects you discussed last week.

Lastly, never underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. An average of seven to eight hours’ sleep will ensure that you wake up refreshed and ready to face the day. The proteins in your body that target infection and inflammation are produced and released during sleep; if your sleep is insufficient, your body’s immune response is weakened, and less able to fight off sickness.

Some insomniacs, lying prostrate in bed during the watches of the night, may find relief in regular deep breathing exercises. Mindful meditation, helpful in clearing the mind of recurring worries, is a useful tool for relaxation. You don’t need to be a half-naked fakir sitting cross-legged on a mountain top to meditate yourself into nirvana. Simply find a quiet and comfortable place to sit, breathe naturally and focus on your breath and how your body moves as you inhale and exhale. Try to dismiss the myriad thoughts that come into your head, and focus on the present. Practice this for a few minutes every night before retiring, and you may find relaxation and the ability to sleep well.

Practising mindful meditation, taking physical exercise, and eating well, will reduce your stress levels and help to strengthen your immune system against coronavirus.  – A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff

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