When I first started writing this “A Meal with…” column over three years ago, little did I anticipate one day finding myself sitting a well-measured two-plus metres away from my subject, with both of us wearing face masks. However, as what is colloquially termed the ‘Chinese Curse’ has it, we are indeed ‘living in interesting times’ and so we now find ourselves in all sorts of strange situations, doing all sorts of things we never imagined we would.
Baz Daniel (left) with Craig Burton, who gives a healthy reminder of what we should have been doing all along.
I particularly wanted to have lunch with one of Phuket’s foremost health and wellness gurus, Craig Burton, because amidst the tsunami of information, opinion, conspiracy theories and downright misinformation that has attacked us as aggressively as the COVID-19 virus itself, Craig’s level-headed voice stands out as a beacon of wisdom and good advice.
Craig, now 45, grew up in the splendidly healthy town of Perth, Western Australia, and is a practicing Clinical and Sports Nutritionist with over 20 years’ experience as a health practitioner. He holds a broad array of qualifications in nutrition, health and fitness as well as mental and lifestyle coaching. He attained his B.A. in Applied Science (Sports Science and Psychology) from Edith Cowan University in Perth and Ohio State University in the United States. Craig went on to certify as a Sports Nutritionist, holding NLC Levels 1 and 2 qualifications in nutrition and lifestyle coaching from the Chek Institute.
Craig’s unique approach to transforming his client’s health, body composition and wellbeing includes naturally addressing hormonal imbalances, digestive system dysfunction, toxicity, vitamin and mineral deficiencies through a programme of individually-optimised diet, lifestyle and supplements.
In short, Craig is exactly the sort of expert that we should listen to if we want to keep ourselves optimally fit and strong to resist infection by the coronavirus and indeed maximise our chances of healthy survival should we be unfortunate enough to contact it.
Meeting Craig in person, I was no way disappointed, as he is the epitome of strong, healthy vitality – a veritable ‘poster boy’ for all the good advice for which he is renowned.
We were fortunate enough to find the ultimate venue for a wonderfully healthy and easily socially-distanced lunch at the Land & Houses residential park clubhouse in Chalong. This lovely venue is open to non-residents and is set in beautiful topical splendour overlooking a huge open-air swimming pool and verdantly-surrounded lake beyond, with the spire of Chalong Temple and the Big Buddha atop the Nakkerd Hills punctuating the perfect azure sky to the west.
We selected healthy fresh salads, fresh fruit platters and un-sugared fruit and vegetable drinks – carrot, green apple, beetroot and ginger, then we set about discussing the current viral crisis.
Craig made the point that the COVID-19 virus attacks organic weakness, as all viruses tend to do. So, if you are overweight, or damage your lungs through smoking, or breathing polluted air, or your liver through excessive alcohol intake, you will, of course, be more vulnerable.
I asked if diet and exercise can make a big difference to levels of immunity: “Most definitely a good healthy diet will help maximise your immune resistance to COVID-19, as it does to all pathogens. It should be low in sugar and processed foods – a whole food diet with lots of fruit and vegetables for fibre and all the trace minerals and vitamins which are essential for strong immunity,” Craig said.
Another key is adding some good healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds which help balance blood sugar. Then add in regular exercise, preferably every day, covering both aerobic and load-bearing forms and some of it outdoors so that sunshine can stimulate your natural vitamin D production.
“The abundant sunshine we enjoy here in the Andaman region is a big plus for outdoor exercise, which can be as simple as a good, long, arms-swinging walk; a bike ride; a jog; or a beach walk and swim, once the beaches are opened again. We are lucky as Phuket still has good air quality and the fresh island winds keep it that way,” he added.
Craig also mentioned that ongoing hydration here in the tropics is essential. “Just sip, sip, sip throughout the day and always carry a water bottle with you,” he said.
I asked about the cleanliness of produce in the region and the impact of chemical pesticides and antibiotics in mass food production.
“The best thing to do is eat ‘as close to nature’ as you can, with minimal cooking and lots of washing of raw produce in clean water before preparation. The King’s Project produce is usually excellent, and local fresh fish and shellfish are very good particularly to boost zinc and magnesium intake, which are important for strong immunity.”
Craig was at pains to emphasise the mental and social aspects of maintaining high immunity.
“We are a species of tribal simians and evolved to live in harmony in groups. Hence your social and family environment are great contributors to your overall health and viral immunity. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, as so many people are by this pandemic, just reach out to family and/or close friends to talk about it and share the load,” he said.
“In addition, good sleep and relaxation are vital factors to our overall health. Try to get at least eight solid hours of sleep every night, starting from as early as possible each evening and complement this with quietly meditative ‘down time’ when you just let your body and mind recharge during the day.”
As we got up from a highly enjoyable lunch despite the new socially distancing imperatives, Craig summed it all up by saying, “There’s been endless chatter about the ‘new world’ or ‘new normal’ that this pandemic has created, but the truth is this virus only serves to underline what we should have been doing all along if we want to optimise our health and immunity and thereby the enjoyment of our lives.”
Excellent advice indeed!