If you’re suffering from the lasting effects of Covid-19, an anti-inflammatory diet may be able to help, suggests nutritional therapist Caroline Hind
The lingering after-effects of a Covid infection have come to be called ‘long Covid’ or ‘long-haul Covid’ and are estimated to affect around one in three people who have contracted the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Long Covid symptoms can include fatigue, low mood, anxiety, joint and muscle aches, disturbed sleep, nerve pain and brain fog.
As with other post-viral illness, long Covid may be caused and perpetuated by a combination of factors. Imbalances in the immune system, prolonged inflammation and impaired production of energy in the body are all thought to be involved.
Chronic Inflammation and Long Covid
Inflammation is a perfectly healthy response to infection and is an important part of the body’s immune system. When an acute infection has been cleared, a well-functioning immune system will switch off the inflammatory messages so that body tissues can return to normal. If this inflammatory response is not switched off, chronic systemic inflammation can continue to cause symptoms such as fatigue, achiness or swelling.
Fatigue and exhaustion are particularly common as the immune system is using a disproportionate amount of energy in its attempt to achieve healing.
The Best Diet for Long Covid
An anti-inflammatory diet is important for improving our overall health, especially for lowering inflammation which can be a root cause of post-viral fatigue and chronic health conditions.
Certain foods can increase inflammation, which we want to avoid or reduce; and certain foods actually have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, which we want to increase and make the main part of our diet.
An anti-inflammatory diet is essentially a wholefood diet, that prioritizing fresh vegetables, fruits, good quality protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates, and limits or avoids processed foods, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
What to Include on an Anti-inflammatory Diet?
Always aim for five to seven portions of vegetables per day especially leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, cabbage, kale, spinach, rocket and Swiss chard, which are all a rich source of immune supportive nutrients such as vitamin C, antioxidants, folate, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. Also include orange-coloured vegetables such as carrots, orange peppers and pumpkin, which are rich in beta-carotene, the plant-based form of vitamin A needed to support immune function.
It’s a good idea to include wholegrains and complex carbohydrates such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice, whole oats, buckwheat pasta, quinoa, sweet potato, beans, lentils and chickpeas instead of refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates include white bread, white pasta, white rice and sugary cereals which can exacerbate fatigue and inflammation.
Try to include a source of protein with each meal to support sustained energy levels. Good sources include lean meat, fish, eggs, quinoa, nuts and seeds or opt for plant-based meat alternatives such as soya. Avoid fatty cuts of meat and processed meats such as salami, sausages and bacon which are more inflammatory.
Proteins provide the building blocks (amino acids) for immune cells and for the enzymes that support the processes of the immune system. Dietary protein needs to be sufficient in both quantity and quality to guarantee optimal immune function, as immune cells have specific amino acid requirements.
Healthy fats are omega-3 fatty acids and mono-unsaturated fats. For a simple way to remember sources of imega-3 fatty acids use the acronym SMASH – salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring.
You will find mono-unsaturated fats in avocado oil, hemp oil and extra virgin olive oil. These healthy fats support blood sugar balance, energy production and help to regulate the immune system.
Eat Balanced Meals
Eating balanced meals will help to support energy levels. Aim for a meal to contain a balance of non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy green vegetables, complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Finally, avoid snacking in between meals.