While we continue to search for a “quick fix” for the COVID-19 virus, there are a lot of ways you can contribute to keeping your body healthy for the long haul. While there are many factors you cannot control, you can control what you choose to put into your body. In this article we will discuss how your gut, metabolic health, and a healthy diet contributes to lowering your risk for COVID-19.
It is no secret that your overall health and wellbeing is also related to your gut health. Although COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory illness, we now know that it affects your body in all sorts of ways. There are many studies that have linked your gut microbiome to an increased risk of COVID-19.
Gut microbiome (or microbiota) is the collective trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in your body, primarily in your intestinal tract. These microorganisms are vital to your immune system, digestion, and distributing the necessary nutrients to your body. Not only that, but they also play an important role in metabolism, fighting infections, regulating your weight, improving mental health and mood, and more.
Just like there are microbiome that benefit your body and your health, there are also harmful bacteria. Many things including sickness, anxiety, or stress can disrupt the balance of your gut’s microbiome, but one thing that affects it most is your diet and nutrition habits. However, there is not one right answer for everyone to maintain a healthy gut. Each person is different and has a different mix and make-up of microbiota, and the best thing you can do is consult a nutritionist or gastroenterologist educated on microbiome health to discuss a treatment plan.
Research shows that an unhealthy gut can be linked to certain diseases such as:
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Heart disease
Microbiome and Covid-19 Health
According to a study from BMJ journals, “Gut microbiome composition was significantly altered in patients with COVID-19 compared with non-COVID-19 individuals irrespective of whether patients had received medication.” This study further shows that inflammation of the microbiome in your gut could be related to continuing symptoms even after a person has recovered from COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2).
It is already known and proven that a large number of patients with COVID-19 have GI symptoms, in addition to their other symptoms. According to The Scientist, “Since then, researchers have identified patterns in the makeup of gut bacteria—a state called ‘dysbiosis’ in which there is loss of diversity and beneficial bacteria but an increase in bad bacteria—that are associated with poorer outcomes and slower recovery from COVID-19.”
Effects of an Unhealthy Diet
When discussing diet, most people think of cutting out your favorite foods and implementing a strict policy of only foods that they do not enjoy, usually to lose weight. When we attribute food to losing weight, it creates the unhealthy narrative that food is only purposeful for weight fluctuation. When in reality, food is vital to our overall health and immune system. Focusing too much on weight also leads to stigmatizing fat and overweight bodies instead of simply trying to be healthy.
There are warning signs that your diet may be negatively affecting your health. Hopefully you keep up with your regular doctor’s visits, because otherwise you might not know about these seemingly “invisible” illnesses:
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High cholesterol (hyperlipidemia)
What is a Healthy Diet
The foods you will find at a fast-food restaurant on every corner, or in most aisles in the grocery store, are usually the ones that do not benefit your health. The typical Western diet includes foods that are processed and high in:
- Salt (bread, chips, crackers, pizza, cured meats)
- Refined sugar and flours (high fructose corn syrup, cookies, pastries, bread, pasta)
- Saturated trans-fats (bacon, cheese, cakes, butter)
In order to boost your immune system and help your good bacteria to flourish, you will need a diet rich in the following:
- Whole fruits, grains, and vegetables
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish and lean meats
- Foods rich in probiotics (yogurt)
- Plenty of water for hydration
Top Vitamins for Health
Maybe you already take vitamins and supplements, but there are specific vitamins you can take to boost your immune system to help prevent infection. Again, you should always consult your doctor and have them run tests to find any deficiencies, prior to starting vitamins and supplements. We also recommend getting the majority of your vitamins from foods.
The list below is just some of vitamins that can be good to incorporate into your routine.
Vitamin D – Most people are deficient in Vitamin D, especially if you live in a place that gets little to no sunlight. Vitamin D supports your immune system and heart health. It helps your body absorb calcium, and as you will see listed below, calcium aids your body in building strong bones. Vitamin D also plays an important role in preventing disease.
Magnesium – This vitamin supports nerve and muscle function, heart health, and regulates glucose. It also helps prevent high blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
Vitamin B – Vitamin B turns food into energy and is necessary for cell development and growth. Vitamin B supports the body in fighting infection.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, boosts your immune system, and protects your cells. It supports heart and prenatal health as well.
Zinc – This mineral supports wound healing, aids in the function of your thyroid, and helps with proper blood clotting.
How to Introduce a Healthy Diet during the Pandemic
Maybe you read the latest trend of a food group that will give you instant results for your health. While some of these may work, starting slow by introducing healthy foods that you enjoy will be easier to maintain in the long run. For example, if you are strongly craving a donut, then you could try substituting that for some berries, and see if that curbs your craving. Instead of never eating another donut (and then feeling guilty whenever you cave in), you can simply work on replacing something unhealthy that you like for something healthy that you also like.
You could also try keeping a food journal. It may seem tedious, but if you keep a detailed log (even if it is just for a month), then you will be able to see what foods affect you most and which ones you need to avoid. You can either use a journal or printable calendar (like the one below), or there are plenty of apps that you can use as well.
Of course, it is okay for you to eat your favorite comfort foods sometimes, since healthy eating is all about moderation. However, it starts to become a problem when you use those foods as your source of comfort and that is easy to do, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
These days it probably feels like we have little control over what happens, and it feels like we never will. But as previously mentioned, you do have control over what you eat, vitamins and supplements you take, and how you take care of yourself during the pandemic. Even if you make small changes daily, you will be surprised how much better you will feel over time.