You are what you eat, and according to a large new Harvard study, that extends to bolstering your protection against Covid-19 infection, too.
The study involving more than half a million Americans found that you can boost your immune system and significantly lower your risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19 by eating a plant-rich diet.
The study, which was conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital via smartphone survey, found that of more than 590,000 adults surveyed, the one-quarter who kept to a plant-rich diet had a 9 percent lower risk of developing Covid-19 than those with the least healthy diets. The most compelling find was that the plant-based group had a 41 percent lower risk of getting severe Covid-19 requiring hospitalization than the one quarter with the least healthy diet.
During the study period, there were 31,815 documented cases of Covid-19 in the entire group. Those in this group were asked to log their intake of food during a normal week. Teams were divided into four groups based on their intake of plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and vegetable oils.
While international health authorities have declared that no specific food, supplement or natural health product will help in the prevention or treatment of Covid-19, the findings indicate this may be as good a time as any to focus on boosting your natural immunity and healthy eating.
Dr Nasr Al Jafari, a functional medical specialist and director of Dubai’s DNA Health and Wellness center, explains the findings: “Lifestyle factors have a profound effect on modulating immune function, not only reducing the chances of infection, but for potentially reducing the severity of the disease and its consequences. With that in mind, modifying lifestyle factors are the cornerstone of boosting immunity.”
This being said, there is no magic fix in avoiding being infected with Covid-19, as so many factors come into play, and health regulations still need to be followed.
“Lifestyle practices need to be addressed whilst also abiding to the wider Covid-19 policies and practices that are currently active in the particular jurisdiction of the individual, which includes — but is not limited to — the vaccination drive,” explains Dr Al Jafari, who is also a member of the Livehealthy expert panel.
Focusing on natural immunity and healthy living are the easiest way to fortify oneself, says Dr Al Jafari, yet they have largely been left out of the Covid-19 picture.
The results of the Harvard study also suggest that public health strategies that improve access to healthy foods may help to reduce the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The public seem to have prioritized supplementation as a result of the general perception that this is more important when it comes to boosting immunity,” he says, “when in fact lifestyle wins every time.”
But that lifestyle can be too pricey for most people. Lana Nasser, a certified integrative nutrition health coach, wants healthy foods to become more accessible to the UAE’s low-income residents.
“I believe in community-supported agriculture that connects closely the consumers of even a low income to the farmers by allowing them to subscribe to the harvest of a certain farm,” she says. “In Mussafah, there are pop-up farmer’s markets, where they sell fruits and vegetables at a much more reasonable price.”
Nasser, who is also founder of Wholesome Living Cook ‘n Coach, says the program teaches people how to regain their health in the comfort of their kitchen.
“People who eat healthily every day greatly reduce their risk of obesity along with a plethora of other diseases. I believe a healthy diet is the best kind of medicine you can give to yourself.”
Immune-system-boosting foods don’t need to be complicated or take a long time to prepare, which is especially beneficial these days as life is so busy, as Nasser explains.
“Some of the easiest and quickest meals I can recommend to boost your immunity are smoothies, warm oatmeal or overnight oats in the morning, a large salad packed with vegetables, nuts and seeds for lunch and then roasted fish or chicken with steamed broccoli for dinner. Healthy eating requires a little bit of motivation, creativity and planning, which are key.”
Since the findings of the study suggest that poor diet quality may be one of the social and economic contributors to Covid-19 risk, the emphasis on healthy eating and being active are of paramount importance, as Yassine Elaouad, a certified personal trainer in Abu Dhabi, explains. “By exercising, we can improve many aspects of our overall health. For example, by doing regular cardiovascular exercises, we can boost our blood flow, which helps in the transportation of nutrients and obtaining more white blood cells, which in turn helps improving our immunity system.”
Elaouad emphasizes just how impactful a healthy lifestyle can be in maintaining overall wellbeing. “I always recommend to my clients to incorporate large servings of fruit and vegetables into their diet and to choose foods to snack on such as oranges, kiwi fruit, watermelon and bananas. Getting adequate sleep is one of the best ways to recover fast and restore energy and it also helps the body to rebuild and repair itself.
“Supporting supplements such as Omega 3, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin C, and the B vitamins can also help to boost your immune system. There is no magic food that will help you to ward off Covid-19, but a healthy diet will help your overall health and wellbeing.”
Angela Beitz is an Abu Dhabi based freelance journalist with more than 12 years of publishing and media experience. Angela’s writing expertise is lifestyle, fashion & beauty, travel, community and wellness. Her interests include cooking and fitness.