The Role of Nutrition in Fighting COVID-19

Offered By The Nutrition Activist

The quality of our diet and nutrition is essential to our health. There is little doubt that unhealthy diets will increase the risk of illness and infection.

There has been a surge of misinformation on what vitamins, supplements and foods you can take and eat to help you prevent coronavirus but unfortunately, there is little, in some cases no evidence to support this. No one supplement or vitamin will help you to prevent coronavirus.

The Role of Nutrition

The best thing that you can do for your health right now and always is to eat a balanced, nutritious and varied diet. This will help you optimise your immunity and keep your body strong.

To be clear there is no diet that will prevent coronavirus, you cannot ‘boost’ your immune system through diet and there is no specific food or supplement that will prevent you from catching it.

Father and son eating outside.

So, What Can You Do?

Here are some basic nutrition principles for you can follow:

  • Eat three balanced meals a day
  • Eat whole foods, not processed foods
  • Drink plenty of water, ideally 2 litres a day
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you are drinking
  • Try to keep caffeine to before midday

By following these simple principles, you will be building the foundations for a nutritious and healthy lifestyle. By limiting your alcohol and caffeine you will be providing your body with a better chance of getting a good night’s sleep. By getting a good night’s sleep you will reduce your body’s desire to eat food rich in sugar and energy.

By reducing the amount of sugary and processed foods you eat you will be balancing your blood sugar. By balancing your blood sugar you will be balancing your hormones and your mood. By balancing your hormones and your mood you will be balancing your body.  By balancing your body you are providing an optimal environment for your body to absorb the nutrients you put into it and so on, you get the picture.

What we do and how we eat are all inter-linked and the way we fuel our body daily affects everything.

What Does a Balanced and Nutritious Meal Look Like?

The simplest way to think about this is to focus on building a balanced plate at every meal. There has been a trend in recent times to focus on the virtues and problems associated with individual nutrients, examples include carbohydrates and saturated fats. This is problematic for many reasons, not least its failure to support the requirement of the human body to have a diet comprising of a diversity of macro and micronutrients. This has never been more evident than when fat became public enemy number one in the seventies. All this did was lead to the overproduction of low-fat, high sugar foods which in turn, led to an overconsumption of foods rich in added sugar. Rather than reduce the very real problem of obesity and type II diabetes this likely contributed to the increasing burden of it.

The point is that by focussing on one nutrient we shout over the real message which is that our bodies need, to thrive, a balance of nutrients in combination. Diets which eliminate an entire food group are not good for you unless there is a medical requirement, see ketogenic diets for epilepsy patients as a good example.

The take-home message here is that if you want to give your body the best chance at being healthy, full of energy and working for you, you need to nourish it.

What Does a Balanced Plate Look Like?

The Eatwell Plate developed by Public Health England is a good place to start. Some of the simple principles of this are:

  • Aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • Include carbohydrates in your diets such as potatoes, rice, pasta, grains and oats. Our brains primary source of energy comes from carbohydrates, make sure you are eating enough. We would always advocate going for wholegrain varieties to increase your fibre intake, we need 30g of fibre a day and very few people in the UK are not getting anywhere close to this.
  • Eat the rainbow. Make sure your plate has a variety of types and colours of fruit and vegetables, the diversity will offer up a whole range of vitamins and minerals.
  • Include protein: beans, pulses, eggs, meat and other proteins, ideally choose lean meat and include two portions of oily fish, such as salmon a week.
  • Include dairy and alternatives: Dairy is the best source of absorbed dietary calcium, make sure you try for three portions a day. If you are using plant-based milk, opt for unsweetened fortified varieties.

An example of a balanced plate would include a portion of protein, some meat, fish, beans or vegetarian alternative such as tofu. A portion of carbohydrates such as wholegrain rice, pasta, bread, potatoes or beans. Non-starchy vegetables to add colour, variety, fibre and lots of vitamins and minerals. An example of non-starchy vegetables includes broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, salad. The choice is huge and they don’t have to be fresh, frozen vegetables are just as good for you. Finally, a serving of fat, fat is a key ingredient, not only is it vital for our body and our endocrine system but it slows down your digestion which will help keep you feeling fuller for longer. And, let’s face it, it is also delicious!

Balanced meal

Take-Home Message

A balanced diet will provide you with a good foundation for good health but it is important to remember that health isn’t just dependent on what we eat. Stress, sleep, physical activity, our mental health and our surroundings are all vital for us to manage our health and wellbeing.

So, whilst I urge you, where possible to limit the amount of processed food you eat and build a balanced plate at every meal, I also urge you to be kind to yourself. Try not to overthink it and just do what you can. Support your mood and your energy levels by aiming for at least seven hours of sleep a night, reduce stressors and focus on what is going well in your life, try to get out for a walk or do something physical every day, talk to your friends, reach out to family and build a supportive and healthy environment around yourself.

Now, more than ever before it is time to focus on supporting yourself and others and simply doing the best that you can.

 

Want to keep learning? Find more articles from Olivia Palmer - The Nutrition Activist:

 


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