DR PATRICIA A DYETT
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food – Hippocrates -The Father of Medicine, 460-370 BC
EVER since the coronavirus started wreaking havoc across the entire globe in early 2020, food places such as groceries and produce vendors, have been some of the few businesses allowed to remain consistently open and accessible to the general public. This is obviously because food is essential to life and health.
The following are some important food and nutrition tips that can help to get through this covid19 period and hopefully even after; encouraging better dietary choices, safer food practices. These tips should help lay the foundation for building an optimised immune system; and a more health-friendly and nutrient-dense selection of food sources for also reducing underlying chronic conditions and diet-related risk factors.
Vitamin A and its pro-vitamin, beta-carotene, are needed for epithelial cells of the respiratory tract, and general skin and membrane protection. They are important antioxidants that protect tissues from oxidative damage. Rich sources of beta-carotene come mostly from plant produce: pumpkin, carrot, papayas, spinach, sweet potato, dasheen leaves, kale, mangoes, bok choy, yellow corn, cantaloupe, and various other fruits and vegetables.
Rich sources of pre-formed vitamin A are fatty meat and animal fats. Animal foods contain mainly saturated fats. Too much Saturated Fats along with Trans-Fatty Acid foods from various manufactured products and baked goods, can contribute to high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and underlying non-communicable diseases.
Vitamin C helps to build up the immune system against infections. t is vital for cell integrity and helps to develop and strengthen all muscles and connective tissues; including those of the lungs, for easier breathing. Rich sources of vitamin C include citrus, West Indian cherries, pineapple, papaya, guava, berries, tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, garlic, ginger, other herbs, and seasonings. Vitamin C supplements can also be used.
Vitamin E and selenium are important antioxidants. Rich sources of vitamin E are wheat germ, vegetable oils, sunflower oil, other seeds & seed oils, nuts & nut oils, avocado, and seafood. Rich sources of selenium are Brazil nuts, mushrooms, brown rice, sunflower seeds, enriched cereals, seafood, white meat and poultry.
Obtain your plant produce from “safe” fields, vendors, food outlets, restaurants, suppliers, and imports. Better yet, plant your own kitchen garden where possible. Do not consume plant produce sold right after dirty flood water events and shortly after high pesticide use.
Wash vegetables and fruits well with clean water. A little detergent can be used for those with skins. Try also using vinegar or a vegetable wash; or add a little baking soda, or table salt in sufficient water, to help clean produce before use. But avoid over-use of sodium salts in preparation or cooking, to prevent development of hypertension in salt-sensitive individuals.
Fluids prevent dehydration, keep throat and respiratory linings moist, reduce excess mucus build up, and flush out infections and toxins. Hot beverages, soups and broths during the covid19 outbreak, can decongest airways.
Fluid suggestions: Pure water, fresh orange or other fruit juice, vegetable soups, cranberry juice, hot lemon water, aloe vera drink, coconut water, caffeine-free teas (garlic, ginger, cinnamon, rosehip, turmeric, chamomile, peppermint, lemongrass).These fluid items can help with decongestion of the respiratory system; the effects of fever; anti-inflammatory treatment; water and electrolyte balance; and calming of nerves, restlessness, and anxiety.
Sugar compromises the immune system, and prolongs infections; so avoid overuse of food, snacks, and desserts with added sugar; as well as sugar-sweetened drinks, alcoholic beverages, mochas or lattes, and carbonated sodas.
Omega fatty acids
Polyunsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids, however, are essential and enhance immunity, reduce inflammation, and decrease chronic disease risk. They are abundantly found in fish and fish oils. But exercise caution whenever you suspect fish may have come from contaminated waters with oil spills and industrial wastes or environmental pollutants like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Some plant sources of omega-3 are flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil, and soybean oil.
Polyunsaturated Omega-6 fatty acid is the other essential fatty acid found in various vegetable oils, nuts and seeds; and
omega-9: health-promoting monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acids can be obtained from olive oil, avocado, and nuts.
Protein forms antibodies for immunity. It is needed for DNA, cell integrity, fluid and electrolyte balance, tissue repair and regeneration; and it strengthens muscles and connective tissues, including those in the lungs for easier breathing.
Plant sources of protein include peas, beans, hummus, soy (meat analogues, tofu, and soymilk), tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, cashew nuts, hazel nuts, Brazil nuts,) peanuts, nut butters, nut milks, seeds (flaxseed, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and chia), miso, tempeh, whole grain cereals, and spirulina seaweed.
Beans: If intolerant to some beans due to intestinal distress or gas, soak overnight and discard the water before further processing or cooking.
Animal protein include meat, poultry, fish, egg, and dairy; and must be held or cooked at appropriate temperatures.
If allergic or immune-sensitive to plant and animal proteins like soy and nuts, or seafood and cow’s milk, avoid.
Dairy milk may either thicken mucus or cause a perception of thickened mucus in the respiratory tract; which can contribute to lung and breathing distress. In such cases, use an alternative milk type or other foods high in calcium.
Eating scavenger animals is like eating a plate of inherently diseased flesh, blood, bacteria, or parasites. So safeguard your immune system and avoid such items. Examples of scavengers are corbeaux, roaches, swine, and shellfish.
Safe food options
Given the initial diet-related reports or speculations about the novel coronavirus, it might still be prudent to avoid certain types of foods and diet practices. There are so many more acceptable food options available, than having to resort to less wholesome options such as skunks, snakes, monkeys, iguanas, and frogs; or creeping and flying rat-like creatures like manicou, lappe, and bats.
Quite frankly, since scientists have already discovered that the coronavirus can spread from humans to animals, it may also be wise to avoid consuming domesticated or even stray animals like dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses.
And while you are at it, go easy on exotic menu items that involve beasts of prey which feed on humans and animals alike (whether healthy, sickly, or dead already) such as sharks, bears, eagles, tigers, whales, etc.
Additionally, endeavour to access your animal proteins from livestock and poultry sources having the least exposure to major hormonal and antibiotic treatment used for quick unnatural growth or disease symptom reduction.
Along with protein foods, iron-rich foods are also needed for the oxygen-carrying haemoglobin in the blood so body cells can live and breathe properly. Adequate oxygen delivery is especially crucial in covid19 cases. Rich plant sources of iron are deep green leafy vegetables, peas and beans, nuts and seeds, curry, grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and chocolate. Rich animal sources of iron include seafood, offal (organ meats) like liver, and red meat.
Note, however, that the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies processed meats as convincingly associated with bowel and stomach cancers; and offal is typically used in processed meat. The WHO also reports that red meat consumption is possibly associated with colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.
Zinc is an immune booster. It reduces inflammation; is needed for cell integrity; and protects DNA. Rich sources are cashew nuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, beans, cereal grains, beef, eggs, and milk.
Magnesium is needed for nerve and muscle function; metabolic reactions; and is an anti-inflammatory agent. Rich sources of this mineral are green peas, nuts, seeds, beans, avocados, green leafy vegetables, bananas, and seafood.
Calcium is needed for lung and other muscle contractions; for healthy bones; regulating heart beat; and fluid balance. Rich plant sources are almonds, tofu, seeds, lentil peas, beans, and dark green and leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, broccoli, and spinach. Animal sources include dairy products, and canned bone-softened fish.
Vitamin D helps with absorption of calcium and is an anti-infective nutrient. It can be obtained from sunlight; as well as from fortified products like cereals, dairy, soymilk, and orange juice; and from egg yolks, beef, and fish.
Fibre, complex carbohydrates, and resistant starch help to eliminate waste and toxins from the body; address chronic diseases; and provide needed caloric energy for breathing, metabolic reactions, and physical activity. Suggestions include: cooked cereals, quinoa, chia seeds, rice, root and tuber foods, plantains, and green bananas; soluble fibres from legumes, oats, and fruits; and insoluble fibres from whole wheat and vegetables.
B Vitamins are needed for DNA synthesis; metabolic reactions in energy production; and help to calm nerves and address certain psychological issues during periods of stress and anxiety. Different B vitamins can be obtained from sources like whole grain cereals, nuts, seeds, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, and eggs.
Phytochemicals are natural nutraceuticals that enhance overall health; address underlying health problems; and protect against various diseases. These are readily obtained from functional plant-food pigments and substances like lycopene, flavonoids, phenols, carotenoids, anthocyanin, allicin, and lutein; which are generously found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soy, legumes, herbs, and spices.
During this current covid19 period and beyond; addressing all the highlighted items above, is crucially important; since these measures can help to boost the body’s immune system against viral attacks and other health challenges.
Dr Patricia A Dyett is a public health nutritionist, university lecturer, registered dietitian