Essential Vitamins to Boost Your Immune System
by Claudia Hleap, R.D.
My name is Claudia Hleap and I am a Registered Dietitian with several years of experience working with patients for diabetes and weight management. I have always had a passion for nutrition, science, and wellness. The field of dietetics is the perfect culmination of these disciplines. I grew up just outside of NYC and obtained my Bachelor of Science from the University of Vermont, then completed my clinical dietetic internship at the Medical University of South Carolina.
My motto is that everything fits in the diet in moderation. I believe in a non-"diet" approach to lifestyle interventions in order to make realistic and sustainable health changes. Many "diets" focus on dramatic weight loss. Unfortunately, these serve only as a short term intervention. Most people that diet end up gaining back all the weight they lost while dieting. My evidenced based recommendations are realistic and sustainable, so that weight loss and healthy habits can be sustained for a lifetime.
How did you become passionate about healthy eating?
I was raised in a family of chefs and medical practitioners, making my fascination with food, health, and nutrition inevitable. I love how impactful nutrition intervention can be and the enormous impact it can make on a person's happiness, health, and wellbeing. I practice what I preach, which leaves me with more energy, self-efficacy, and focus. I've also developed a passion for preparing and sharing healthy meals with others. I post healthy and simple recipes to my social media to encourage healthy living and thoughtful cooking with minimal chef-skills required. I share evidence based recommendations and healthy recipes to help people optimize their health and experience the health benefits I have experienced by making healthy changes in my life.
If you could persuade people to change three things about their diet during these challenging times, what would they be?
If I had to focus on 3 nutrition recommendations for people to focus on during this time, I would say to incorporate more vegetables in the diet, focus on whole-wheat carbohydrates, and emphasize lean protein sources. Incorporating more vegetables into the diet increases the amount of fiber and nutrient-dense foods in the diet. These foods will be more filling than many high-carbohydrate options. Introducing whole-wheat carbohydrates into the diet also increases the amount of fiber you are getting from these types of foods (eg, brown rice, popcorn, whole wheat bread). This will lead to fullness with less food, while supplying you with more vitamins and minerals than you would get from processed carbohydrates. Lastly, try incorporating more lean protein sources in your diet. This can be accomplished easily, by eating more seafood or lean meat cuts in place of high fat cuts of beef, pork, or chicken. Alternatively, you can try to include more plant based protein sources in the diet (eg, nuts, hemp seeds, quinoa, and tofu).
Most of the world is practicing social distancing and working from home, how important is it to hydrate while doing so?
It is always very important for your health to stay hydrated. One reason for this is that people often confuse the body's signaling for hunger and thirst. Being thirsty may lead you to think that you are actually hungry, and may cause you to consume more food and calories than your body needs, thereby contributing to unwanted weight gain. Staying hydrated can prevent this mixed signaling and will help keep you in tune with what your body needs. Staying hydrated also improves your blood pressure and decreases your risk of stroke. During these stressful times focus on building healthy habits; one of your goals could be to drink at least 64 oz of water/day. That means eight glasses of water throughout the course of your day!
What are 3 at-home x kitchen must haves for people practicing social distancing?
Three kitchen must haves to get you through quarantine are a blender, food processor, and dish cloths. Having a blender makes it easy to make smoothies and soups. You can use this versatile kitchen tool to make many different types of meals and you can easily add frozen foods to your smoothie to bulk it up, like cauliflower rice, zucchini, edamame, and spinach. A food processor is also an extremely versatile option. You can use a food processor to make any chopped and blended foods, such as dips, salsa, hummus, soups, or vegan ice cream. You can use it to puree vegetables, and to turn nuts into nut butter. Lastly, I'd recommend having a few dish towels available in your kitchen to cut down on the amount of paper towel you use. I'd recommend having three in your kitchen: one to dry your hands, one to dry dishes, and one to clean counters.
What are 5 ‘must stock’ foods each of our readers should stock up on from the grocery store during social distancing?
Choose fruits and vegetables with a longer shelf life, like cauliflower and apples, since these items don't spoil as quickly as other produce like bananas and cucumbers. Stock up on healthy, high-fiber, shelf stable foods, such as oatmeal and bran cereal. Purchase frozen fruits and veggies, so that you always have some on hand, even if you run out of fresh produce. I also recommend purchasing canned beans, since you can add this plant based fiber and protein to almost any meal without worrying about its shelf life. Choose healthy plant-based proteins, such as tofu, edamame, and hemp seeds. These are healthy alternatives to meat which will last for a long time in your pantry or fridge. Greek yogurt is high in protein and lasts a long time in the fridge as well. You can eat this alone as a meal or snack or use it in recipes for smoothies or overnight oats.
What are some ways to boost your immunity amid the coronavirus outbreak?
In order to boost your immunity, it is essential to optimize your health and wellness. While there is nothing you can do to outright prevent getting the virus, besides social distancing and properly sanitizing, you can optimize your health to help fight off the virus. Make sure to eat nutritious and balanced meals in order to make sure you're getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need. Stay hydrated and increase your physical activity at home to build up your strength and body function.
Any at-home detox recipes or secrets?
There is no mysterious secrets to improving your health. The best thing you can do is eat a healthy balanced diet. If you're getting what you need from your food and staying hydrated and active, this will help you fight this disease and stay healthy at home. As I mentioned above, don't let your activity level fall! Even if you don't have a home gym, there are plenty of aerobic at-home workouts and yoga classes on YouTube and elsewhere that are free and require no equipment.
What is your favorite quarantine snack?
My favorite snack while in quarantine has been popcorn. Popcorn is a shelf stable, whole grain snack that is easy to prepare. This has more fiber and protein than potato chips and satisfies that crunchy carb raving. I also add different seasonings to it to mix up the flavor. Lately I have been obsessed with the new Trader Joes elote seasoning, it is amazing paired with popcorn!
What’s one simple plant-based dish our readers can recreate at home, less than 30 minutes and eat multiple times throughout the week?
My favorite cooking-free recipe right now is vegan chocolate mouse! This is the easiest recipe ever made and has been satisfying my chocolate craving throughout the quarantine. Add 2/3 block of tofu, 1/4 cup cocoa, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1/4 cup agave, and a splash of almond milk to a food processor and blend until you get to a smooth consistency. Put it in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes and then it's ready to go! I have many more simple plant based recipes like this one on my Instagram (@claudiahleaprd) and my website (www.claudiahleap.com).
Plant based living is becoming more and more popular. When eating a mostly plant based / vegetarian diet, are there certain foods to focus on to make sure we’re getting enough nutrients and protein?
It is important to make sure you're getting enough protein, B vitamins, and iron when you're following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Focus on eating plant based proteins with every meal, including legumes, nuts, tofu, quinoa, edamame, hemp seeds, or plant based protein powders. For people following more restrictive diets, such as a vegan diet, I recommend supplementing with a B vitamin complex.
Do you have any plant-based nutrition tips to fight coronavirus?
In order to fight the coronavirus, it is essential to optimize your health by preventing any vitamin deficiencies. Vitamins and minerals are best used by the body when consumed in the form of whole foods. Therefore, try to get everything you need from your foods first. Like I mentioned previously, when strictly following a plant based diet you may be at risk for protein, B-vitamin, and iron deficiencies. Make sure to emphasize foods containing protein and these vitamins and minerals in your diet to give your body exactly what it needs to improve its defenses.
What’s one of your favorite organic/natural supplements or vitamins you recommended?
I am a big fan of multivitamins. I don't believe there is a need for most people to artificially supplement specific nutrients if they are eating healthy diets and have no diet restrictions or deficiencies. I usually recommend multivitamins for my clients, to ensure they are getting everything their bodies need. I strongly encourage multivitamins for people with restrictive diets, since they are less likely to be consuming they amount of each vitamin and mineral they need from the diet without supplementation.
What are three things you are most grateful for during these uncertain times?
I am most grateful for my health and my relationships. This quarantine has given me the time to evaluate the most important things in life and to reach out to the people I care the most about. It is important to use this time wisely to reevaluate what is most important to you and to develop healthy habits to carry over into life outside of quarantine.
During these uncertain times how do you stay positive? What’s your secret?
Knowing that this is not going to last forever has been my driving force through this quarantine. I always feel like there is never enough time in the day for me to do everything I want to do. I am using all this time to focus on the projects that have been in the back of my mind but that I've never had enough time to do. Make a list of the things you want to accomplish during quarantine and set your mind to it!
Any self-care, self-care or self-development tips for our readers?
While you have this time on your hands make an effort to get enough sleep, to meditate, to cook something new, and to read books! Use this time to do fun, new things that will help you relax, develop new skills, or learn something new!
Any favorite health / nutrition podcasts or books you recommend to our readers?
The Nutrition Diva podcast is a staple for me. Monica Reinagle provides evidence based nutrition recommendations and debunks many common nutrition myths. Her podcast as a fantastic source for reliable nutrition information.
Where can our readers find you? (Instagram, Facebook, etc)
Anything else you want to add? Any other health, wellness or nutrition tips?
While we're going through an unprecedented and challenging time stay strong and use this time to focus on your health! There is no better time than right now to go get started.