Why eating well matters
Many ordinary activities that we did without paying close attention in the past have become extraordinary activities that require extra caution and conscious effort. Grocery shopping is one of them. Everyone faces limited access to healthy, fresh food in the time of coronavirus. I have heard from my patients that their diet has not been great. They have been eating more canned, frozen, and boxed foods during the quarantine. People are afraid of catching the virus while grocery shopping or getting infected from consuming fresh produce. That fear is real. I understand, but in this post, I will show you that it’s possible to eat safely and healthy during this time.
We know that people with underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cardio-cerebrovascular disease are at higher risk of developing a severe illness with COVID-19. A recent study from China showed that among 46,248 patients with COVID-19, high blood pressure was the most prevalent contributing condition followed by diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. These conditions are all associated with metabolic syndrome (1). Surprisingly, respiratory disease was a less common comorbidity.
Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that dramatically increase the risk of various chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cancer. According to the American Heart Association, about 34% of adult Americans are considered to have it (2).
If a person has three or more of the following metrics, the person meets the criteria for metabolic syndrome.
- Abdominal obesity or “apple shaped body”: waist circumference >40” in men, >35” in women
- Triglyceride level: > 150mg/dL
- HDL (“good”) cholesterol: <40mg/dL in men or <50mg/dL in women
- Blood pressure: top number >130mmHg or bottom number >85mmHg
- Fasting blood sugar: >100 mg/dL
Metabolic Syndrome and COVID-19
People with metabolic syndrome have historically been more vulnerable to viral flu. For example, diabetes increases mortality to the H1N1 influenza virus. Since diabetes is more than a blood sugar dysregulation problem, but rather a chronic inflammatory condition affecting multiple vital organs. Infection caused by COVID-19 is thought to disturb metabolic regulation which is already compromised in metabolic diseases. Chronic inflammation increases oxidative stress in the body and activates the immune system which leads to the production of more proinflammatory substances. This high inflammatory state is considered to worsen symptoms of COVID-19 leading to unfavorable outcomes.
Food for prevention and treatment of Metabolic Syndrome
Whether you already have metabolic syndrome or would like to prevent it, the choice is the same – eating a healthy diet.
- Eat more varieties of colorful vegetables and fruits
- Drink clean water
- Eat healthy fats: avocado, grass-fed butter, ghee, extra virgin olive oil
- Enjoy often: fish and seafood (3-4 times a week), whole grains*
- Enjoy in moderation: red meat (once a week), dairy, red wine (1~3 glasses a week) sweetener (raw honey, stevia), added sugar**
- Avoid: foods from boxes and cans ewer things from boxes and cans, simple carbohydrates, sugar or added sugar
- Eat slowly and have meals with loved ones! No matter what you eat, enjoy it!
* whole grains: if you are managing blood sugar, move whole grain to the “enjoy in moderation” category or even the “avoid” category.
** It is good to avoid any added sugar in general because sugar is proinflammatory. If it is too challenging to completely avoid added sugar, you can move it to the “enjoy in moderation” category, meaning eat products with added sugar 1-2 times a week.
Sign up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
You have probably heard that farmers are having to put their produce to waste during the COVID-19 pandemic even though there are a lot of empty shelves in the grocery stores. I think joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is a great way to access fresh food, especially during this time. By signing up for a CSA, you not only eat more fresh produce but also support local farmers and small businesses. You can conveniently pick up your CSA produce or choose a delivery service. For CSA options near Portland, OR, check out this link http://www.portlandcsa.org/
Is produce safe from the coronavirus?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is no evidence to support COVID-19 transmission associated with food (3). You can further protect yourself by washing your produce thoroughly with water. If they are sturdy vegetables and fruits, wash them with a high-pressured stream of water. If they are soft and delicate, wash under a low-pressured stream of water. Most importantly, wash your hands frequently before and after preparing and eating food and do not touch your face with unwashed hands. Lastly, cooking vegetables destroys viruses.
Please eat healthy as much as possible even though we have limited access to fresh food. I know we are all trying to do our best. A healthy diet may sound like a passive way to prevent a COVID-19 infection, but it might be the most active way to do it.
Dr. Hyeyeon Kim is a naturopathic doctor.
- J. Yang et al.: Prevalence of Comorbidities and Its Effects in Patients Infected With SARS-CoV-2: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int. J. Infect. Dis. 94, 91 (2020)
- About Metabolic Syndrome. www.heart.org (2020)
- Food Safety and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | CDC (2020-05-11)
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