You’re practising social distancing and watching your bottom line. How can you fuel yourself and boost your immune system on a dime? What's in the pantry, right now, that offers benefits you might not know about? What are the cheap and abundant goods to pick up on that next supply run? We put the scenario to naturopath Dr. Hannah Webb, who began hosting popular livestream discussions about nutrition at her Facebook page as the social impact of COVID-19 took hold.
“Food is essential for a healthy immune system because it provides the building blocks for a vital and heathy body,” says Webb, reached at her Salt Spring Island home. “I was trying to think creatively about your question. What kind of dried goods might people have in their pantry? One thing that’s really important for your immune system is your microbiome, and the best way to make sure you have a really healthy and diverse microbiome is prebiotic foods: fibres that your gut doesn’t break down, things that the bacteria in your gut will feed on, including flax seed, oats, things that are really fibrous, the kinds of things that people are likely to have in the back of their cupboard. Healthy bacteria in the gut crowds out any pathogenic bacteria.”
Naturally, Webb advises we load up on fresh fruit and vegetables—she’s a partisan for “brightly coloured food”, recommending “purple eggplant, dark leafy greens, yellow peppers, tomatoes, carrots…”—and she’s a big fan of bone broth, which (assuming you have the leftover bones) can be whipped up with kitchen staples like onions and garlic (anti-microbials), along with ginger (circulatory stimulant). But canned, dried, and frozen foods also have their value. “Lipton noodle soup is going to be just pasta and electrolytes versus, say, a canned chilli or canned vegetables,” says Webb. “You do lose some of the nutrient density once something is canned, but it’s still vegetable, and it’s still going to be good for you.”
Common herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano also act as effective anti-microbials. Same goes for hot spices including chili, curry, and turmeric. If your only option at the moment is, say, refined pasta—spice it up. “It’s a nice way to boost up the nutrient density of anything you’re eating,” she says.
Meanwhile, demonstrating that some things remain true on either side of a pandemic, sugar is not your friend. “It actually depresses your immune function” explains Webb. But while she doesn’t advise "sitting at home eating cookies and bread all day,” Webb adds an important caveat. “The other thing I’m saying to people,” she states, “is that you can be gentle and forgiving with yourself. Because people use food for comfort, and that’s okay as well. Yes, it’s important to eat healthy, but a lot of people are going through a really hard time right now, so be gentle with yourself.”
Indeed. When you need a dose of calm, reach for the chamomile tea. It works, and that box has been sitting there for months, I bet.