COVID-19 prevention: What you drink matters
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a respiratory infection which according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), causes fever, tiredness, sore throat and in severe cases, shortness of breath and respiratory difficulty, is the most challenging health issue the world has experienced in the past few decades.
WHO and other global public institutions have confirmed that the severity of COVID-19 infection is heavily linked with the overall state of the body’s immune system, a reason why people with pre-existing health challenges are said to be most vulnerable to the contagion.
It is, therefore, not surprising that since earlier this year when WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, people are now increasingly mindful of the state of their immune system.
For instance, the shopping lists of households across different parts of the world, including Nigeria, have revealed changes remarkably. CNN reported that the United States retail sales of orange juice jumped about 38 percent in the four weeks ending on March 28 when compared to the same period last year. Also, the Florida Department of Citrus disclosed that there was a spike in demand for 100% orange juice within the same period. The department forecasts a considerable increase in the short-term demand for the commodity.
Just like in the United States, there has been surplus demand for fruit juices in every other part of the world. During the five weeks the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun were on lockdown, shops and supermarkets had run out of orange fruit juice stock in the first two or three weeks of the restriction.
In fact, less than a week into the lockdown, my favorite 100% Real Orange Fruit Juice, which would have made the stay-at-home less boring for me, had rapidly been purchased off the shelves in Lagos. The scramble for unavailable raw fruits in the open markets started in earnest. That the restriction on movement cut off a large chunk of the supplies did not help matters.
This major spike in the demand for pure fruit juice, especially the orange category, could be attributed to the immune-boosting power of orange juice. Peter McCaffery, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Aberdeen, said vitamin C, which is contained in orange juice, helps to strengthen the immune system to fight off bacteria and virus infections like the one the world is currently grappling with.
There are still relatively very few studies on the effect of nutrition on the human immune system. Yet, Harvard Medical School in its Harvard Health Publishing says deficiency in zinc, iron, copper, folic acid, Vitamin A, B6, C (which is contained in large quantity in fruit juice) and E have negative impacts on immune responses. Fruit juice contains the vital micronutrients needed to boost immunity.
However, fruit juice intake is just one of the ways to boost one’s immune system. There are several other things one can do to achieve this – adequate sleep, thorough cooking of meat, maintaining good hygiene, moderate intake of alcohol and regular exercise.
There are lots of herbal mixtures on the shelves of local stores with labels containing ‘support immunity’, ‘immune booster’ etc. So far, there is no evidence that such substances can strengthen immunity.
Regular exercise is an essential component of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular function, helps control body weight, removes toxins in the body, increases blood circulation and lowers blood pressure. The result of these is a strengthened immune system that protects the body against infections and diseases. Regular exercise is most valuable when one shuns junk food and sticks to healthy eating habits and balanced diet.
Individuals are often advised to ‘eat well’ as protection against the risk of infection. This advice has become even more relevant since the outbreak of COVID-19. What is missing in this counsel is the real definition of ‘eating well’. It is good to fill your stomach, but at best, that may only give you energy. What about ‘going green’?
Fruits are also an awesome option, but you also need to be sure you are not eating trouble. You really might not know how many hands must have touched the mango or apple you want to eat. Pure fruit juice contains the same nutritional value as raw fruit. So, if you can find a pack of trusted and healthily-processed 100% fruit juice on the store shelf, you will be making a smarter choice considering the prevailing health challenge.
Proper nutrition and hydration are vital. People who eat a well-balanced diet tend to be healthier with stronger immune systems and lower risk of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases. So you should eat a variety of fresh and unprocessed foods every day to get the vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, protein and antioxidants your body needs. Drink enough water. Avoid sugar, fat and salt to significantly lower your risk of overweight, obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Eat fresh and unprocessed foods every day
Eat fruits, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils, beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat, brown rice or starchy tubers or roots such as potato, yam, taro or cassava), and foods from animal sources (e.g. meat, fish, eggs and milk).
Daily, eat: 2 cups of fruit (4 servings), 2.5 cups of vegetables (5 servings), 180 g of grains, and 160 g of meat and beans (red meat can be eaten 1−2 times per week, and poultry 2−3 times per week).
For snacks, choose raw vegetables and fresh fruit rather than foods that are high in sugar, fat or salt.
Do not overcook vegetables and fruit as this can lead to the loss of important vitamins.
When using canned or dried vegetables and fruit, choose varieties without added salt or sugar.
Drink enough water every day
Water is essential for life. It transports nutrients and compounds in blood, regulates your body temperature, gets rid of waste, and lubricates and cushions joints.
Drink 8–10 cups of water every day.
Water is the best choice, but you can also consume other drinks, fruits and vegetables that contain water, for example lemon juice (diluted in water and unsweetened), tea and coffee. But be careful not to consume too much caffeine, and avoid sweetened fruit juices, syrups, fruit juice concentrates, fizzy and still drinks as they all contain sugar.
Eat moderate amounts of fat and oil
Consume unsaturated fats (e.g. found in fish, avocado, nuts, olive oil, soy, canola, sunflower and corn oils) rather than saturated fats (e.g. found in fatty meat, butter, coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard).
Choose white meat (e.g. poultry) and fish, which are generally low in fat, rather than red meat.
Avoid processed meats because they are high in fat and salt.
Where possible, opt for low-fat or reduced-fat versions of milk and dairy products.
Avoid industrially produced trans fats. These are often found in processed food, fast food, snack food, fried food, frozen pizza, pies, cookies, margarines and spreads.
Eat less salt and sugar
When cooking and preparing food, limit the amount of salt and high-sodium condiments (e.g. soy sauce and fish sauce).
Limit your daily salt intake to less than 5 g (approximately 1 teaspoon), and use iodized salt.
Avoid foods (e.g. snacks) that are high in salt and sugar.
Limit your intake of soft drinks or sodas and other drinks that are high in sugar (e.g. fruit juices, fruit juice concentrates and syrups, flavoured milks and yogurt drinks).
Choose fresh fruits instead of sweet snacks such as cookies, cakes and chocolate.
Avoid eating out
Eat at home to reduce your rate of contact with other people and lower your chance of being exposed to COVID-19. We recommend maintaining a distance of at least 1 metre between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. That is not always possible in crowded social settings like restaurants and cafes. Droplets from infected people may land on surfaces and people’s hands (e.g. customers and staff), and with lots of people coming and going, you cannot tell if hands are being washed regularly enough, and surfaces are being cleaned and disinfected fast enough.
Counselling and psychosocial support
While proper nutrition and hydration improve health and immunity, they are not magic bullets. People living with chronic illnesses who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 may need support with their mental health and diet to ensure they keep in good health. Seek counselling and psychosocial support from appropriately trained health care professionals and also community-based lay and peer counsellors.