Mediterranean diet is high in fruit and vegetables, high in omega 3. Picture: IANS
Mediterranean diet is high in fruit and vegetables, high in omega 3. Picture: IANS

How a healthy diet could mitigate Covid-19 infections

By Lifestyle Reporter Time of article published Jun 4, 2020

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With over eight million South Africans returning to work when the country descends into alert level 3, the rise of infections is inevitable. 

Acute hygiene and social distancing will assist in curbing the spread of the virus, but our diets and lifestyle choices are another precaution we can take to bolster our body’s fighting chance against contracting Covid-19, says Omy Naidoo from Newtricion Wellness Dieticians.

“I don’t believe that there is a magical list or single silver bullet when it comes to food that boosts our immunity. One would need to follow a balanced healthy diet. 

"Diet diversity allows for a variety of vitamins and minerals to be consumed in good portions. Nutriments that are rich in antioxidants, vitamin A, B6, B12, C, D, E, Zinc, copper, selenium and Omega 3 are essential for good immune function. These nutrients can be found in what is called good food choices such as, fruits and Vegetables; fish; nuts; beans; lentils and yoghurt,” explains Naidoo.

But often people shy away from eating healthy citing the expenses associated with healthy foods.

Naidoo says as dietitians it is their job to dispel these perceptions and educate people on how to make healthier choices without breaking the bank.  

He says beyond eating foods that are rich in nutrients that are great for immune function, as South Africans’ we also need to be mindful of our weight.

According to the Demographic and Health Survey conducted by Statistics South Africa, 70 percent of women in SA are either obese or overweight, while 40 percent of men fall in the same category.

“Other lifestyle areas that people need to mindful of keeping inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes in check. The International Diabetes Federation estimates that nearly 3.5 million South Africans have diabetes and a further 2 million are estimated to not even be aware that they are diabetic. This highlights the concern for diabetics considering the rampant spread of Covid-19 and its trend of infecting those with comorbidity,” says Naidoo.

He says while a vaccine for Covid-19 is still in the pipeline and we are forced to continue living with the pandemic, our bodies would benefit incrementally from the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet is high in fruit and vegetables, high in omega 3 (oily fish), high in fibre and low in saturated refined sugars (carbohydrates) and low in sodium.

“Maintaining a high fibre intake will control our gut microbiome, which prevents ‘bad’ bacteria from moving out of the gut into the body cells. Exercise is another means of improving our immune system. We must aim to get at least 20 to 30 minutes daily of cardiovascular activity at least three times a week,” Naidoo says.

For those living with an already compromised immune system, Naidoo says they have an onus to diligently follow a healthy diet and lifestyle while maintaining good adherence to their daily medication intake.

“No diet will cure any condition or solely prevent you from getting ill. But in the event of you getting ill, good nutrition will allow your body to fight the infection in a shorter duration with a better outcome. If you have chronic diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, get these under control as these will affect your body’s ability to fight off infections when you fall ill. And should you be unsure about a new diet or regiment of medication, it is always advisable to consult with a medical professional,” concludes Naidoo.

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