By Jason Wermers, M.S. student in Health Science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore
While the world continues to wait for an effective vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19, people are searching for a miracle prevention method.
Could that miracle be garlic? Alcohol? Hot peppers?
No, no and no, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
There is no magic diet that will prevent someone from catching the novel coronavirus 2019. Rather, health experts believe the tried-and-true methods used to improve general health are the most effective.
The WHO gives the following nutrition advice during the COVID-19 pandemic, which might sound familiar to anyone who has asked a doctor, dietitian or physical trainer for tips on losing weight and getting physically fit:
- Eat fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and avoid highly processed products.
- Stay hydrated; drink 8 to 10 cups of water daily.
- Moderate your fat intake by eating foods with unsaturated fats, such as are found in fish, avocados and nuts, and not saturated fats, such as are found in potato chips or other snack foods, processed meats and butter.
- Cut down on salt (no more than a teaspoon daily) and sugar (by avoiding sweet snacks such as cookies and cake).
The only tip the WHO provides that is unique to the pandemic is to avoid eating out. That is because – as we have all heard by now – until a vaccine is developed, the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus is to keep our distance from each other. No matter what precautions a restaurant may take, including restricting dining to outdoor seating, you cannot be certain that all employees or customers do not have the virus, even if they do not show obvious symptoms.
Another suggestion from the WHO that might not be the first to come to mind is to take care of your mental health during the pandemic. What does this have to do with nutrition? The WHO points out that people with chronic illnesses, or who might have developed COVID-19 or are suspected of it, might need help with their psychological well-being to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This support can come not only from trained professionals, but also family and friends, the organization says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds that while in-person gatherings are limited during the pandemic, there are other ways to connect with people. These include those ubiquitous video conference calls — Zoom isn’t just for work! — and old-fashioned phone calls. The CDC also mentions that healthy eating and exercise contribute not only to physical health, but also mental health.
The American Heart Association (AHA) offers a more lighthearted view on keeping, or establishing, healthy habits during the pandemic. The AHA points out that the drop in physical activity resulting from quarantine restrictions can easily lead to “the COVID-19,” a pandemic twist on the “Freshman 15.”
The bottom line, the AHA says, is to eat healthy and stay active. The association provides practical advice, including buying more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and fewer sugary or salty snacks. With limited trips to the grocery store and fewer dining options available these days, stocking your pantry and refrigerator with healthier choices makes it easier to adopt healthy eating habits.
This admittedly unexciting advice brings us back to the eye-catching claims we addressed earlier. Here are some more details on them, courtesy of the WHO.
Hot peppers, the organization points out, are tasty additions to any meal, but they will not keep you from catching the virus. Alcohol also will not prevent anyone from getting sick and has the potential for its own harmful effects if consumed in excess. Garlic is healthy and should be part of anyone’s diet, but it also has not been proven to prevent infection.
The Conversation blog adds a few more foods to the list of what should not be considered magic bullets to prevent infection with the coronavirus: lemons (they are a good source of vitamin C), vitamin C (we need this as part of a healthy diet), highly acidic foods and the keto diet.
In the end, the best diet during COVID-19 is essentially the same as at any time, with or without a pandemic. Perhaps the pandemic can be a springboard to developing healthier habits – proper eating, exercise and sleep – which can not only help the body to more easily resist infection but can help improve our overall health.
Peer edited by Ruyu Liu
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U.S. Air Force photo by Marilyn Barbone
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