Nutrition in the time of coronavirus: Eat healthy, drink enough water and stay safe

COVID-19 pandemic is defining global health crisis of recent time and posing greatest challenge to social, economic and political aspects of human life. Since its emergence in Asia late last year, the virus has spread to every continent except Antarctica. The COVID-19 pandemic is posing severe threats to international health and the economy. At the moment there is still no substantial cure for the disease, or a safe vaccine. Evidences showed, the disease is more common in people who are either immunocompromised or have comorbid conditions like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure etc.

A well-balanced diet is crucial to offer stronger immune systems and lower risk of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases. The daily diet should include a variety of fresh and unprocessed foods to get vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, protein and antioxidants that the body needs to execute various functions. Hydration is important too. Drink enough water. Avoid sugar, fat and salt to significantly lower your risk of overweight, obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

While speaking about boosting immunity, it’s important to understand, no single food can provide long term immunity. A wholesome combination of foods is recommended to derive all the nutrients as different food contain different nutrients. Following simple dietary guidelines will help in ensuring a stronger immunity profile along with reducing the risk of obesity and other non-communicable diseases.

Holistic Balanced Diet:

· Eat fresh fruits, green vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils, beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. jawar, bajra, ragi, oats, whole wheat, and brown rice.

· Daily, eat: 2 cups of fruit (4 servings), 2.5 cups of vegetables (5 servings), 180 g of grains, and 160 g of meat and beans (red meat can be eaten 1−2 times per week, and poultry 2−3 times per week).

· Fill half of your plate with green leafy vegetables and other vegetables (raw salad and cooked), take least amount of fats and oil and good amount of protein in daily diet.

· During lockdown, we tend to indulge into unhealthy snacking, often there’s consumption of high fat, sugary snacks which leads to weight gain, spike in blood glucose level and damaged heart health.

· For snacks, choose raw vegetables and fresh fruit salad, unsweetened yogurt, handful of unsalted nuts and seeds, plain brown bread sandwich, oat meal, oats and ragi cookies etc.

· Sometimes, to get joy of eating, calorie dense foods can be eaten in moderation.

Vitamin D and COVID 19 Mortality: Multiple studies across globe have reported association of Vitamin D deficiency and high mortality rate in COVID 19 patients. Data from Europe has revealed that, 58% people who succumbed to death were having Vitamin D deficient (Z Isaac et al, 2020). In India, 70% population is reported to have Vitamin D deficiency (G Ritu and Gupta A, 2014). Thus, it’s crucial to ensure enough Vitamin D and calcium in daily diet.

Food Sources: Fatty fish, mackerel, salmon, sea fishes. Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals, low fat cheese and other dairy products, Egg yolks.

Sunlight: There’s good reason why vitamin D is called “the sunshine vitamin.” When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. The sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur.

Along with Vitamin D, other vitamins like A, C, and K are proven to be beneficial in boosting natural immune response and protect against harmful pathogens. Regular intake of dark green leafy vegetables and fruits can compensate the need of these vitamins.

Minerals and COVID 19: Minerals are special micronutrients which are needed in small quantity, but play very important role in executing regular physiological activities. Among these, Zinc and Selenium are two potential antioxidants to fight infections; need to be included in daily diet during this pandemic,

Food Sources:

Zinc: Brazil nuts, Seafood, including crab, salmon, tuna and prawns, chicken, brown rice, lentils and peas.

Selenium: Flaxseeds, sea foods and egg yolk.

Good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. Moreover, focus on a holistic lifestyle that involves sound mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Don’t forget, “You are what you eat”.

The author is Group Corporate Nutritionist at Reliance Industries. Views are personal

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