It has been clearly communicated to us that in addition to being elderly, all people with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of contracting and having complications from the Coronavirus. If we look at those underlying health conditions, we see that they are mainly lifestyle diseases,
Type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity are all chronic conditions which are risk factors for Covid-19, and they are also all directly correlated to lifestyle. There are many factors that make up your lifestyle, including what you eat and how much exercise you get. There are also more complex socio-economic factors that lead to racial disparities in health outcomes for African Americans and other communities of color, in general as well as what is in stark display during this pandemic.
As a society, we need to implement policies that will provide an equal playing field for all citizens. These include quality healthcare for all, living wages, eliminating “food deserts” where neighborhoods lack access to grocery stores and fresh produce, clean water, clean air and fair access to decent housing that includes outdoor spaces for recreation and exercise.
As individuals, we can each make better choices in what we eat and how we take care of ourselves in order to reduce our risk of disease. The following guidelines offer some suggestions:
- Drastically reduce or eliminate your consumption of fast foods and processed foods. Rule of thumb: know what is in the food you’re eating and focus on the ones that either don’t need a label or have very few ingredients without preservatives and other chemicals. The closer the food is to its natural state, the better it is for you, like a baked potato instead of french fries.
- Eliminate sugary drinks and drink water instead, and plenty of it.
- Increase your intake of fiber, which comes from plant-based foods. This includes fresh fruits (especially berries) and vegetables (especially dark green and leafy), whole grains, nuts and seeds. If you don’t have access to fresh produce, buy it frozen.
- Cut down on red meat, processed meats like bacon and deli meats and other animal fats. Research shows that a plant-based diet is much more nutritious and leads to better health.
- Cook more and eat out less. Healthy meals don’t have to be expensive — think in terms of rice and beans or whole grain pasta at dinner, eggs, yogurt with fruit or oatmeal for breakfast instead of boxed cereal or pastries, popcorn for a snack instead of chips or cookies (but pop it from plain kernels instead of the microwave stuff in a bag), sandwiches made from whole grain breads and nut butters or veggie wraps, fresh or frozen spinach or broccoli eaten either as a side dish or added to casseroles, pasta sauces or homemade soups. The list is limited only by your imagination.
- Control added sugar and salt, using spices and herbs for flavorings as well as fresh onions and garlic.
- Exercise regularly and get outdoors in the sunshine whenever you can. Vitamin D from the sun is free and helps strengthen your immune system.
While it’s true that no one is immune to Covid-19, it’s also true that how and where you live plays a large role in how this virus affects you and your community. Let’s each do our part to improve the lives of our fellow human beings, including how we take care of ourselves.