COVID-19 is generating so much data! While fascinating, it can also be depressing and stressful.
With many of us in lockdown, we feel helpless watching the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths mounting every day.
But rather than trying to predict the future and debate things we can’t control, I thought it might be interesting to look at how COVID-19 is changing the foods we are buying and what it might be doing to our immune and metabolic health.
In times of crisis, we turn to food for comfort
You really can’t be blamed for reaching for comfort food when the TV and your social media feed is full of fear and panic. We instinctively reach for energy-dense nutrient-poor foods in times of stress to survive an impending famine.
But how will our food choices affect our odds when we are exposed to the virus after weeks and months of being locked indoors feasting on our pandemic prep?
The good news is that we are seeing many people being exposed to COVID-19 with minimal symptoms. But, with no safe vaccine on the horizon, how can we optimise our food choices to support our innate immune system to ensure that COVID-19 is a ‘nothing burger’ for us rather than becoming another statistic?
How are we changing how we eat in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
We see similar trends in what people are buying to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, with more rice, flour, bread and alcohol.
We are typically turning to cheap, energy-dense nutrient-poor foods (that perhaps will last in the cupboard for longer), just in case food becomes a little more scarce in the future.
The data below shows how food buying habits in Russia have changed against the previous year. Russians stocked up on buckwheat, rice (+225%), rice (+209%), pasta (+192%) and sugar (+138%).
Vodka buying in Russia has climbed steadily since early March (now up +34%). It’s been fascinating to see how so many of the things we held dear have changed in relative importance over the past few months.
Across Europe, people are drinking more, with alcohol consumption up 12% in the UK.
People in the US are buying more beverages (e.g. soft drinks) and packaged foods, again along with more alcohol.
We are eating less healthily
At a point when our food choices are more critical than ever, as we go into survival mode, many people are reporting that they are eating less healthily.
Unfortunately, we don’t always act logically in these times. In spite of the fact that smoking is a significant risk factor for severe complications of COVID-19, many people are smoking more in some of the areas in Europe!
What are we eating?
In Italy, we see flour, canned meat, rice, tomato products and pasta at the top of the list of foods people are choosing to stockpile.
This final food choices chart is from covid19foodsurvey.com where researchers from the University of Tennessee compiled survey data from more than eight thousand people on their buying habits in preparation for the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, we see pasta, rice, bread and sugar at the top of the list of the things that people purchased more of in preparation for the pandemic.
Nutritional Optimisation just got real!
As mentioned in a number of recent posts, our odds of experiencing COVID-19 appears to be increased by our body fat levels and metabolic health.
So, in view of this information, one thing we can do to reduce our risk of being another COVID-19 statistic is to be as fit and lean as reasonably possible. But beyond that, it seems nutrient density is a crucial factor.
While many of us have become complacent, thinking that COVID-19 is only an issue if you are old, Singapore has been seeing more young people being admitted to hospital in March than people over 60 due to COVID-19.
A friend who lives in Singapore told me,
“It goes to show that underlying health status is often trumped by other factors such as cramped living conditions and viral load. This new wave is confined mostly to the foreign worker dormitories where fit young (mainly Bangladeshi) construction workers are living in confined quarters. Perhaps unique to Singapore but just imagine what will happen if/when this virus reaches the slums of India and townships of Africa.”
“These men must pass rigorous medicals before they acquire a work permit. Any chronic disease would rule them out. They are also fit due to the nature of their work – mostly manual labour on construction sites.
“Nutrition, however, is questionable. They live mostly on large quantities of cheap rice.”
A well-nourished immune system is undoubtedly a key factor that we all need to be conscious of going forward!
Nutrients that support your immunity
Previously, in What to eat to support your immune system, we detailed how various essential nutrients play a crucial role in supporting a healthy immune response. We also noted that you shouldn’t try to “boost your immune system” with isolated and concentrated supplements.
While normal healthy levels of a range of essential nutrients are necessary for a healthy immune response, high doses of isolated supplements can cause an overactive immune response (i.e. the cytokine storm) which is what makes COVID-19 deadly.
While the food we eat is a complex matrix of complementary ingredients that your body requires to function optimally, the following essential nutrients play a crucial role in your ability to mount a healthy immune response include:
- vitamin D,
- vitamin A,
- vitamin C,
- iron, and
How much of these essential nutrients do typical pandemic-prep comfort foods contain?
To understand how much of these critical nutrients our typical pandemic prep comfort foods provide, let’s take a look at their micronutrient fingerprint.
The charts below are from our Nutrient Optimiser search tool. Each of these charts shows the percentage of the Recommended Daily Intake (i.e. the amount required to prevent diseases of deficiency) of each of the essential nutrients that each food provides. Our analysis has shown that we tend to benefit in a range of ways from consuming food that contains much more than these minimum amounts.
The nutrients shown towards the bottom of the chart are the ones that each food provides more of, while the ones at the top are the ones that the food doesn’t provide much of.
I have chosen to show these nutrient fingerprint charts in terms of nutrients per 2000 calories to represent what you would get from each of these foods if that’s all you ate for the day. You can check out how some of your favourite foods compare by using the tool here.
The nutrient fingerprint chart below shows the nutrients in white rice. As we can see from towards the top of the chart, rice provides practically no vitamins C, D and A (which are critical to a healthy immune response).
Next, we have pasta, which shows a similarly poor nutrient profile, with very low levels of vitamin C, D or A.
Again, flour provides very little of the essential nutrients that support healthy immune function.
Then we have wine which isn’t so great either.
Nutrition should be about getting the nutrients you need (not just avoiding the “bad stuff”)
We believe that nutrition science should primarily be about ensuring you get nutrients you need from the food you eat. Sadly, even the official advice for COVID-19 focuses on what to avoid rather than what you should actually be eating!
Our data analysis has shown again and again that once you prioritise the nutrients you need in your food the more controversial details sort themselves.
Which foods will support healthy immune function?
Rather than focusing on some magic “superfood” that contains only one nutrient, it’s much smarter to focus on the foods that contain more of ALL the nutrients that are critical to optimising your immune system.
The foods below have been optimised to maximise your intake of all the nutrients that have been shown to play a crucial role in supporting a healthy immune response (i.e. vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, zinc, niacin, iron, and selenium).
- bok choy
- Swiss chard
- bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- broccoli sprouts
- egg white
- whole egg
- duck eggs
How do these nutrient-dense immune-supporting foods compare?
The charts below show the nutrient profile for a few of the immune-supporting nutrient-dense foods listed above.
While plant-based foods like spinach don’t provide a lot of vitamin D, B12 or omega 3, they contain a LOT of the other important essential nutrients like vitamin C and potassium (especially when you consider them in terms of nutrients per calorie).
The chart below shows the micronutrient nutrient fingerprint for mushrooms.
Liver is an excellent source of lots of vitamin A as well as niacin and selenium. While not everyone loves liver, you don’t need much to get your daily dose.
Steak doesn’t provide a lot of vitamin C or A. However, it does provide plenty of selenium, zinc, iron and protein, which are critical for healthy immune function.
Eggs are a nutrient-dense option to provide selenium and some vitamin A.
Then we have seafood like salmon that provides lots of selenium, niacin, and potassium.
Rather than searching for the single superfood that provides a perfect nutritional profile, it’s best to combine them intelligently to get the broad spectrum of essential nutrients you need to thrive.
These recipes have been designed to provide you with more of ALL the essential nutrients you need to thrive. And rather than targeting the minimum to prevent deficiencies, we have targetted the Optimal Nutrient Intakes to all you to thrive, not just survive through anything that comes your way.
Unfortunately, trying to sell recipe books in a pandemic is not a great business strategy, so we thought we’d release a free abridged version of our immunity book for people to use at this time. This will give you access to our food list optimised for immune function and the best recipes that provide more of the essential nutrients that will support a healthy and balanced immune function.
To get a free sample version of our immunity recipe book with the highest-ranking foods and recipes for healthy immunity CLICK HERE.
We hope you love it and it helps people prepare for the ‘interesting’ times and many unknowns that still lie ahead.