Virginia Tech nutritionist weighs in on fighting COVID-19 with nutrition, healthy living

Posted at 1:05 PM, Jan 02, 2021

VIRGINIA TECH, Va. - News 3 is taking action for your health in the New Year. We're looking into how you can defend yourself against infections, like COVID-19, by having a nutritious diet.

One mistake that people can make when it comes to staying safe from COVID-19 is thinking there is nothing beyond social isolation to defend themselves against infection, according to a Virginia Tech expert in nutrition.

“We talk about masks, distancing and washing your hands, but rarely do we talk about healthy eating as a way to strengthen your immune function,” said Carlin Rafie. “We need to be certain our messaging includes something more like - social distance AND let’s eat well.”

Rafie is a registered dietitian with expertise in nutrition and dietetics, focused on health education to Virginia residents through Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“When we started social isolation, people who didn’t already have quality access to food, to promote healthy eating and immune health, found themselves even more at risk,” Rafie said. “For many it can be a challenge to access the kinds of healthy foods we’re talking about.”

Rafie stresses the importance of eating foods that are high in vitamins and minerals including B6, B12, folate, C and D, zinc and selenium, all of which have intimate relationships and function within the immune system.

"As much as we put an emphasis on making sure we have a mask on our face when we walk out the door, we can also incite our own homes [and] make sure that we and our children are eating in such a way as to enhance our immune system," she said.

Rafie recommends the following healthy eating habits:

  • Eat 5-9 portions of fruits and vegetables, either fresh, frozen or canned. They’re filled with vitamin B and C and there is very strong evidence that higher consumption equals lower infection rates and chronic disease.
  • A plant based diet, including whole grains, whole foods, nuts and seeds.
  • A daily dose of dairy or dairy alternative fortified with vitamin D.
  • Eat more white meats and meat substitutes, rather than red meat. Even better, eat more fish, such as salmon, trout and tuna.
  • Avoid packaged and processed food. They can be high in sugar and salt, and easily cause weight gain.

She also said you'll need to exercise and make a healthy diet part of your everyday life.