Hei Mahi Māra
Kai to Power up the Immune System

A beginner’s guide to growing organic vegetables
Nā Tremane Barr

It has been a strange and somewhat frightening start to 2020 with the release of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV2) casting a dark shadow across the world.

As we look to the night sky for the return of Matariki (July 13-16) and a new year, I think it is important to focus on what we can do to empower ourselves. It’s not enough to set up roadside checkpoints to discourage unnecessary travel as seen in previous lockdown levels – we all need to take responsibility for our own health to ensure our body’s immune system has everything it needs to deal with any virus that might come our way.

Key Nutrients
There are certain key nutrients our bodies need to work optimally, particularly when it comes to warding off colds and influenza viruses. First and foremost is adequate levels of Vitamin D. Studies show the elderly are particularly susceptible to chest infections when they have low levels of Vitamin D. A recent study discovered:

“The most vulnerable group of population for COVID-19 is also the one that was the most deficient in Vitamin D.”

Above: Autumn kūmara harvest.

A Government website points out those who live in Te Waipounamu in the winter, and have a darker skin colour (i.e. Māori), are more at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. This is because the primary source is being exposed to sunlight. So any lockdown level recommendations to stay at home should come with a warning to make sure we all get outside and get real sunshine on our bodies when we can.

The next best option comes from food and/or supplements and here is a list of some of those sources:

Fish: Tuna, sardines, herring and salmon are well known sources of Vitamin D, but also warehou and eels. In fact eels are a powerhouse of nutrition as they are also very high in Vitamin A and B12, also crucial to good health. Then, of course, there are fish oil supplements that contain Vitamin D.
Meat: Lean meat and organic free-range eggs e.g. a dish of scrambled eggs using two large hen eggs contains 15% percent of a person’s recommended daily intake.
Dairy: Yoghurt naturally contains Vitamin D and some milk and yoghurt products are fortified with added Vitamin D.
Plant: Mushrooms like raw maitake, dried shiitake and portobello and white mushrooms, particularly if they have been exposed to sunlight.

It is important to focus on what we can do to empower ourselves…we all need to take responsibility for our own health to ensure our body’s immune system has everything it needs to deal with any virus that might come our way.

Zinc is a crucial mineral to incorporate in your diet and can also be found in seafood (especially oysters which also contain B12), lean red meat, chicken, wholegrain cereals, beans, lentils, seeds and dairy. The only vegetables with any meaningful amounts of zinc are potatoes and kale.

Vitamin A is another key foundation to a healthy immune system. I have read that Vitamin A has been used to help people recover from the effects of COVID-19. Vegetables are a vital source – carrots, bok choy, rocket, silver beet, squash, pumpkin, spinach, kale, lettuce, kūmara and watercress are recommended.

Not surprisingly, Vitamin C is also crucial and can be found in capsicums, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage (white and red), cauliflower, silver beet, spinach, garlic, kale, potatoes and watercress.

Above: Broccoli is a good source of Vitamin C.

I start each day with the squeezed juice from one lemon (or lime) in a glass of water with a bit of honey. Rosehip tea is also a powerful source of Vitamin C as are fruits like apples, kiwifruit and oranges.

A nutrient key to a healthy immune system is selenium. Our soils here are naturally low in selenium and this is one of the reasons we have such high cancer rates. Snapper and mussels are high in selenium as are mushrooms and garlic. The mineral fertiliser I put on my māra contains selenium for those vegetables that do take it up, even in trace amounts. However, in a situation like this where the need is immediate, the cheapest and easiest option is to eat two brazil nuts a day because they are the best selenium superfood.

There are a range of supplements available for Vitamins A, D, C, zinc and selenium which I use when necessary, particularly in the cold and flu season. However, the best way to get these nutrients is via food because when you eat a rainbow of foods like those listed above you end up not just with the key ingredients listed, but a full range of all the nutrients necessary for maintaining a healthy immune system.

A friend of mine complained to his doctor after suffering a heart attack last year and undergoing surgery to correct it, that all his efforts to eat right, use supplements and exercise hadn’t paid off. To which his doctor replied that all those things had increased his chances of surviving the surgery and making a healthy recovery, which are typically very low for his type of condition. Because of these good health habits he beat the odds and is still very much alive and healthy today. Eating all the right foods, supplements and exercising in the sunshine may not stop you getting colds, influenza or COVID-19, but they will increase the odds of getting through any such illnesses without serious complications.

Above: Winter lettuce in a cloche.

This pandemic can bring out the fear of death in all of us. The trick I found when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer was not to focus on whether I could die, but on whether I was doing everything I needed to do to be healthily alive and living a life I enjoy. This moves the nervous system out of fight or flight mode and into the parasympathetic relaxation, rest and repair mode which optimises the healthy functioning of our immune system. Tomorrow may be an unknown foreign land, but today is our moment of power – Tihei Mauriora!

The role of Vitamin D in the prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 infection and mortality

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Tremane Barr is Ngāi Tahu/Kāti Māhaki ki Makaawhio. He has been gardening organically for more than 30 years. Tremane is currently a self-employed mauirpreneur whose whānau owned and run business sells essential oils and natural skin care products containing native plant extracts: https://zurma.co.nz/