Strawberries

One cup of strawberries delivers more than the daily recommended amount for Vitamin C. 

It’s Week 10 of quarantine, and the coronavirus keeps marching on. Whether laid off, furloughed or working remotely, most of us are still cooped up. Everything is weird, and there’s still no end in sight.

Has the cumulative stress made you want to eat everything in the pantry, too? A friend told me recently that he’s gained the “COVID 19.”

Stay with me; this is not a column about weight loss (nor will it ever be).

Under quarantine, you may be sitting more and exercising (and maybe sleeping) less. Add a bag of chips on the couch to the new normal, and well, you know the rest.

In the first installment of LNP | LancasterOnline’s Stay-Put Cooking series, created in response to the pandemic shutdown, I wrote that “there is something we can do while we ride out this unprecedented time in history. We can cook.”

With every cell in my body, I believe in the transformative power of cooking and how it can both lift our spirits and keep us grounded. But as this health crisis continues until who-knows-when, how can we fuel our bodies to become more resilient?

At this point in the quarantine, can we make space for and shift our focus to food that literally fuels the engine that keeps disease at bay? Can we consider food as medicine a little bit more than we did yesterday so that we can keep on keeping on?

I’m not a medical professional. But I am confident that if we shift a few crumbs in the direction of edible immune support, we will feel more robust. We may have more energy. And we may lay the groundwork for more healthful habits to keep us strong in the wake of so much uncertainty.

Here’s an introduction to some of the vitamins and nutrients you can be putting to work for your benefit.

Vitamin C

If you’ve ever been laid up with the flu, you may have loaded up on Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that also packs major antibacterial and antiviral properties. It helps to make collagen, which we need for our bones and skin. We need it to make serotonin, a hormone that plays a role in regulating our mood (read: stress) and how we sleep.

How to eat it: Vitamin C isn’t limited to the citrus fruit family. Consider these warm-weather crops: 1 cup strawberries or bell peppers gives you more than the daily recommended amount. One-half cup parsley or 1 cup raspberries gives you about one-third of the RDA; one cup of tomatoes about 25 percent.

Vitamin D

Most of us grew up drinking fortified milk, which we were told was good for our bones and makes us strong, which isn’t wrong. But arguably more compelling is recent research pointing to Vitamin D’s potential to reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections. It helps produce white blood cells, which help ward off viruses and bacteria.

Sun exposure is the most efficient way for our bodies to make Vitamin D, but sheltering in place has made that more logistically challenging.

How to eat it: The list of Vitamin D-rich foods is small, including fatty fish like sardines and wild-caught salmon and tuna, whole eggs (the yolk is where it’s concentrated) and to a lesser extent, some varieties of mushrooms. Among the many fortified ingredients are cow’s milk, yogurt, nut milks and many brands of breakfast cereal.

Zinc

Maybe you’ve popped a few zinc lozenges while fighting a cold. That’s because zinc, a powerful mineral, amps up our body’s efforts to ward off infection. It also supports the skin against rashes and fungus and works in tandem with Vitamin A to support vision.

How to eat it: Just 1/4 cup of sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds yields about 25 percent of the RDA, as well as 1 cup garbanzos and 1 cup lentils.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E refers to eight fat-soluble antioxidants, which help slow cell damage, from skin to eyes. It protects against diseases of inflammation including diabetes, macular degeneration and arteriosclerosis.

How to eat it: Seeds and nuts are Vitamin E champions. Just 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds gives more than 80 percent of the RDA for Vitamin E, while 1/4 cup of almonds provides 40 percent. An avocado or 1/4 cup of peanuts gets you 25 percent of the way. And if nuts or seeds aren’t your thing, consider a cup of spinach or chard.

Fiber

Fiber is the broom that sweeps away toxins and bad fats and keeps our body’s plumbing in tip top shape. And if the plumbing is in working order, we’re alert and full of vitality; we’re taking care of business. Think about it; when we don’t eat enough fiber, we get stopped up and feel sluggish. I like to think of fiber as the fountain of youth!

Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar, which keeps diabetes at bay. It helps with cholesterol metabolism, which can help bring blood lipid levels down. We cannot afford to be stopped up — not ever, but especially now.

How to eat it: 1 cup of raspberries (nearly 30 percent of RDA); 1 cup lentils, pinto beans, black beans or lima beans way over half. One cup of asparagus, green beans or strawberries gets you on the way, with more than 10 percent of what you need.