This week we’ve had promising news about an upcoming vaccine, and the CDC has reiterated the benefits of wearing a mask, washing your hands, and social distancing to help prevent Covid-19 infection. We have another tool at our disposal though, that offers no risks, is not uncomfortable, and is already proven. It’s the food we put into our bodies.
Our immune system is key in fighting off infection from Covid-19 and any other invading pathogens. The food and nutrients we consume play a critical role in how well our immune system works. It’s also important to note that eating poorly is a major factor in causing the underlying conditions like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes that are risk factors for getting sicker and/or dying from Covid-19.
Health and medical experts throughout the world agree that the key to improving our health and combatting disease is with the food we eat. Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer, professor for Healthy Ageing at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands says it’s time to put nutrition on the frontline of the Covid-19 war. Nancy Roman, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America, points out that empty calories fill hospitals because the lack of nutritious food increases underlying conditions and underlying conditions are increasing Covid. Dr. Vanita Rahman of Barnard Medical Center and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and Matthew Rees of Dartmouth College and founder of the website Food and Health Facts, point out the poor health of the American people is largely attributed to poor nutrition. We are the unhealthiest of any high-income country as well as having the highest per capita death rate from Covid-19 among 18 other high income countries. A study published in the BMJ Nutrition Prevention and Health journal finds that nutrition has a key role in cutting the risk of infections like Covid-19.
As Dr. Rahman and Matthew Rees point out, many of the chronic conditions we face like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure are avoidable with a prudent lifestyle and diet. We consume too many processed meats and sugar sweetened beverages and not enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Dr. Eggersdorfer tells us to strengthen our immune systems with vitamins C and D, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. (See our previous articles on what foods provide these nutrients). The researchers involved in the BMJ study include vitamins A and D to reduce respiratory infections, with dietary sources of vitamin A being liver, whole milk, cheese, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, and orange-colored fruits. Vitamin E food sources include vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
Nancy Roman reminds us that even though our culture tends to look for instant solutions, improving our health through nutrition takes time. It’s worth the effort though, to build your body’s strength and resilience to resist illness, avoid chronic disease, and improve your quality of life. The more we Know Food, the more we have a fighting chance.