Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away

Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away


The connection between the pandemic and our dietary habits is undeniable. The stress of isolation coupled with a struggling economy has caused many of us to seek comfort with our old friends: Big Mac, Tom Collins, Ben and Jerry. But overindulging in this kind of food and drink might not just be affecting your waistline, but could potentially put you at greater risk of illness by hindering your immune system.

Hear the word “nutrition,” and often what comes to mind are fad diets, juice “cleanses” and supplements. Americans certainly seem concerned with their weight; 45 million of us spend US$33 billion annually on weight loss products. But one in five Americans consumes nearly no vegetables – less than one serving per day.

When the emphasis is on weight loss products, and not healthy day-to-day eating, the essential role that nutrition plays in keeping us well never gets communicated. Among the many things I teach students in my nutritional biochemistry course is the clear relationship between a balanced diet and a strong, well-regulated immune system.

Along with social distancing measures and effective vaccines, a healthy immune system is our best defense against coronavirus infection. To keep it that way, proper nutrition is an absolute must. Although not a replacement for medicine, good nutrition can work synergistically with medicine to improve vaccine effectiveness, reduce the prevalence of chronic disease and lower the burden on the health care system.

The impact of the Western diet

Scientists know that people with preexisting health conditions are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 infections. That includes those with diabetes, obesity, and kidney, lung or cardiovascular disease. Many of these conditions are linked to a dysfunctional immune system.

Patients with cardiovascular or metabolic disease have a delayed immune response, giving viral invaders a head start. When that happens, the body reacts with a more intense inflammatory response, and healthy tissues are damaged along with the virus. It’s not yet clear how much this damage factors into the increased mortality rate, but it is a factor.

What does this have to do with nutrition? The Western diet typically has a high proportion of red meat, saturated fat and what’s known as “bliss point foods” rich in sugar and salt. Adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is missing. Despite the abundance of calories that often accompanies the Western diet, many Americans don’t consume nearly enough of the essential nutrients our bodies need to function properly, including vitamins A, C and D, and the minerals iron and potassium. And that, at least in part, causes a dysfunctional immune system: too few vitamins and minerals, and too many empty calories.

A healthy immune system responds quickly to limit or prevent infection, but it also promptly “turns down the dial” to avoid damaging the cells of the body. Sugar disrupts this balance. A high proportion of refined sugar in the diet can cause chronic, low-grade inflammation in addition to diabetes and obesity. Essentially, that “dial” is never turned all the way off.

While inflammation is a natural part of the immune response, it can be harmful when it’s constantly active. Indeed, obesity is itself characterized by chronic, low-grade inflammation and a dysregulated immune response.

And research shows that vaccines may be less effective in obese people. The same applies to those who regularly drink too much alcohol.

How nutrients help

Nutrients, essential substances that help us grow properly and remain healthy, help maintain the immune system. In contrast to the delayed responses associated with malnutrition, vitamin A fights against multiple infectious diseases, including measles. Along with vitamin D, it regulates the immune system and helps to prevent its overactivation. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, protects us from the injury caused by free radicals.

Polyphenols, a wide-ranging group of molecules found in all plants, also have anti-inflammatory properties. There’s plenty of evidence to show a diet rich in plant polyphenols can lower the risk of chronic conditions, like hypertension, insulin insensitivity and cardiovascular disease.

Why don’t we Americans eat more of these plant-based foods and fewer of the bliss-based foods? It’s complicated. People are swayed by advertising and influenced by hectic schedules. One starting place would be to teach people how to eat better from an early age. Nutrition education should be emphasized, from kindergarten through high school to medical schools.

Millions of Americans live in food deserts, having limited access to healthy foods. In these circumstances, education must be paired with increased access. These long-term goals could bring profound returns with a relatively small investment.

Meantime, all of us can take small steps to incrementally improve our own dietary habits. I’m not suggesting we stop eating cake, french fries and soda completely. But we as a society have yet to realize the food that actually makes us feel good and healthy is not comfort food.

The COVID-19 pandemic won’t be the last we face, so it’s vital that we use every preventive tool we as a society have. Think of good nutrition as a seat belt for your health; it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get sick, but it helps to ensure the best outcomes.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away

Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away


The connection between the pandemic and our dietary habits is undeniable. The stress of isolation coupled with a struggling economy has caused many of us to seek comfort with our old friends: Big Mac, Tom Collins, Ben and Jerry. But overindulging in this kind of food and drink might not just be affecting your waistline, but could potentially put you at greater risk of illness by hindering your immune system.

Hear the word “nutrition,” and often what comes to mind are fad diets, juice “cleanses” and supplements. Americans certainly seem concerned with their weight; 45 million of us spend US$33 billion annually on weight loss products. But one in five Americans consumes nearly no vegetables – less than one serving per day.

When the emphasis is on weight loss products, and not healthy day-to-day eating, the essential role that nutrition plays in keeping us well never gets communicated. Among the many things I teach students in my nutritional biochemistry course is the clear relationship between a balanced diet and a strong, well-regulated immune system.

Along with social distancing measures and effective vaccines, a healthy immune system is our best defense against coronavirus infection. To keep it that way, proper nutrition is an absolute must. Although not a replacement for medicine, good nutrition can work synergistically with medicine to improve vaccine effectiveness, reduce the prevalence of chronic disease and lower the burden on the health care system.

The impact of the Western diet

Scientists know that people with preexisting health conditions are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 infections. That includes those with diabetes, obesity, and kidney, lung or cardiovascular disease. Many of these conditions are linked to a dysfunctional immune system.

Patients with cardiovascular or metabolic disease have a delayed immune response, giving viral invaders a head start. When that happens, the body reacts with a more intense inflammatory response, and healthy tissues are damaged along with the virus. It’s not yet clear how much this damage factors into the increased mortality rate, but it is a factor.

What does this have to do with nutrition? The Western diet typically has a high proportion of red meat, saturated fat and what’s known as “bliss point foods” rich in sugar and salt. Adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is missing. Despite the abundance of calories that often accompanies the Western diet, many Americans don’t consume nearly enough of the essential nutrients our bodies need to function properly, including vitamins A, C and D, and the minerals iron and potassium. And that, at least in part, causes a dysfunctional immune system: too few vitamins and minerals, and too many empty calories.

A healthy immune system responds quickly to limit or prevent infection, but it also promptly “turns down the dial” to avoid damaging the cells of the body. Sugar disrupts this balance. A high proportion of refined sugar in the diet can cause chronic, low-grade inflammation in addition to diabetes and obesity. Essentially, that “dial” is never turned all the way off.

While inflammation is a natural part of the immune response, it can be harmful when it’s constantly active. Indeed, obesity is itself characterized by chronic, low-grade inflammation and a dysregulated immune response.

And research shows that vaccines may be less effective in obese people. The same applies to those who regularly drink too much alcohol.

How nutrients help

Nutrients, essential substances that help us grow properly and remain healthy, help maintain the immune system. In contrast to the delayed responses associated with malnutrition, vitamin A fights against multiple infectious diseases, including measles. Along with vitamin D, it regulates the immune system and helps to prevent its overactivation. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, protects us from the injury caused by free radicals.

Polyphenols, a wide-ranging group of molecules found in all plants, also have anti-inflammatory properties. There’s plenty of evidence to show a diet rich in plant polyphenols can lower the risk of chronic conditions, like hypertension, insulin insensitivity and cardiovascular disease.

Why don’t we Americans eat more of these plant-based foods and fewer of the bliss-based foods? It’s complicated. People are swayed by advertising and influenced by hectic schedules. One starting place would be to teach people how to eat better from an early age. Nutrition education should be emphasized, from kindergarten through high school to medical schools.

Millions of Americans live in food deserts, having limited access to healthy foods. In these circumstances, education must be paired with increased access. These long-term goals could bring profound returns with a relatively small investment.

Meantime, all of us can take small steps to incrementally improve our own dietary habits. I’m not suggesting we stop eating cake, french fries and soda completely. But we as a society have yet to realize the food that actually makes us feel good and healthy is not comfort food.

The COVID-19 pandemic won’t be the last we face, so it’s vital that we use every preventive tool we as a society have. Think of good nutrition as a seat belt for your health; it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get sick, but it helps to ensure the best outcomes.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Confused about what to eat? Science can help

Confused about what to eat? Science can help

Video Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine


Do you feel like nutritionists are always changing their minds? Do you want science-based information about diet but don’t know whom or what to believe?

If you’re nodding in agreement, you’re not alone: More than 80% of Americans are befuddled.

Yet it’s a lament that’s getting quite tiring – if you’re a nutrition scientist, that is. So much so that I refocused my career to shine scientific light on today’s critical food conversations, which have profound impacts on public health and the environment. My mantra: From farm to fork, what we eat matters.

In fact, did you know that 80% of chronic diseases are preventable through modifiable lifestyle changes, and diet is the single largest contributing factor?

Science says plants are better for you and our planet

Scientists agree plant-based diets are better for both you and the planet.
casanisa/shutterstock.com

Clean eating or keto? Paleo or gluten-free? Whole 30 or vegan? Forget fad diets, because science has the answers – there is far more agreement about diet and health than you may know. The scientific report from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, for example, concluded that a plant-based diet is best for human health and the environment alike. More than 75% of your meal should comprise vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and protein sources should include beans, peas, nuts, seeds and soy.

Canada’s 2019 Food Guide is similarly plant-focused, as is Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate, while Brazil emphasizes foods “mainly of plant origin.” These guidelines and others also stress the importance of limiting processed and ultra-processed foods.

There’s also consensus from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and others that plant-based diets are more sustainable, largely due to the high energy inputs and environmental damage of livestock.

While it may sound like a fad, a “plant-based” diet has been studied for decades. Awareness escalated as it addresses two urgent public health challenges: the chronic disease epidemic and the climate change crisis. It’s a win-win for human health and the environment. Plant-based diets can be adapted to suit your taste preferences, traditions and cultures, as the Blue Zones, or regions of the world where people typically live longer than average and with fewer chronic diseases, indicate.

If science has the keys to a health-promoting, disease-preventing, planet-saving diet, why are people so confused? A closer look will arm you with the skills to sort fact from fiction.

There’s money in confusion

Celebrity junk science is an obvious player. It might even be cloaked in scrubs, like Dr. Oz – though chastised by the Senate for his quackery. (Physicians, in general, have little to no training in nutrition.)

Celebrities garner enormous platforms, often clouding the truth (or drowning it completely); the deal between Netflix and Gwyneth Paltrow, whose company Goop was sued over a certain jade egg, suggests that science is losing the battle.

One needn’t be a celebrity to hold sway, however. A list of the Top 100 influencers showed that most were bloggers or athletes with no expertise. (None were scientists.) These voices gain considerable traction on social media. Health Feedback, a network of scientists who review the accuracy of online content, conducted a study with the Credibility Coalition and found a minority of articles received a positive rating, with most “exaggerating the benefits and harms of various foods.”

Traditional media don’t always shed light, alas. Single-study sensationalism is ubiquitous – for example, glyphosate in oats, coconut oil and weight, coffee causing cancer – and findings lack context.

And science journalism has taken a hit, and is perhaps why CNN interviewed an anti-science zealot. Or why the Los Angeles Times tweeted that there’s a “growing belief” about the health benefits of celery juice. (Pro tip: It’s not a thing.)

Surrounding the din of bogus dietary advice and media hype is a backdrop of science denialism, which legitimizes anti-science when espoused from top levels of government. Science illiteracy also plays a role.

Nonetheless, there are knowledge gaps: 57% of Americans have never seen the dietary illustration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture called MyPlate or know little about it, and 63% reported it was hard to recognize sustainable choices. Shoppers also claimed that identifying healthy food was difficult (11%) or moderate (61%). Unsurprising, perhaps, since 48% looked to crowded food packages for guidance: Some labels are meaningful while others are little more than marketing. (All natural, anyone?) Indeed, powerful food and agriculture lobbies still exert influence on dietary guidelines and obscure the science.

Through all of this, I believe the nutrition science community has tacitly contributed by failing to participate collectively in the public discourse. Nor have we adequately defended our discipline when attacked, whether by journalists, physicians or food writers.

Changing the conversation

Potent societal powers create a culture of nutrition confusion that not only obfuscate the truth about diet, they undermine science as a whole. Three steps will help eaters navigate this rocky terrain.

Begin by asking critical questions when digesting diet news. Does the writer have an advanced degree in nutrition, or does she or he have expertise in science journalism? Are there references to peer-reviewed studies or scientific organizations? Is the source credible? Are miracle cures or quick results promised? Are there expensive price tags for magic bullets? Does it sound like clickbait? Questioning the who-what-where-why-how is paramount.

Second, remember that what flits through our newsfeeds often comes via algorithms that enable news to careen through our echo chambers and elicit confirmation bias, factual or not. Offline, too, we are more likely to share beliefs with friends and family, our tribe. Getting curious about what you eat and why it matters beyond your comfort zone is necessary: You may need to “unlearn what you have learned.”

Finally, try this on for size: Nutrition. Isn’t. Confusing. We all have cherished traditions and values – what we eat isn’t just about the science. (At least, I hope not.) But it is time to learn the fundamental food and nutrition facts that will inspire you to harness the power of food to promote health, prevent disease and protect the planet. Change is possible – and the truth is out there.

P.K. Newby, Scientist, Science Communicator, and Author, Harvard University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feeding your Temple: Body, Mind, and Spirit

Feeding your Temple: Body, Mind, and Spirit

In college, I was quite the busy-body. I found my self-worth in participating in every possible activity, club, and organization. I was in the band, played tennis, and a member of student council. I was also a member of the student television news station, volunteered with the Chapel every Sunday, and I pledged a sorority. Can you say, “busy?!” The less I slept, the more meals I skipped, and the more coffee I drank, the more valuable I felt.

I was not taking care of my temple. Instead, I was abusing it as if that was a way to win God’s approval. As I write this now, it sounds so silly. I’ve matured a lot. But in my younger years, I had some serious insecurities and lacked self-worth. I literally hated everything about the body I was in. I hated my mind, I hated my body, and I hated my spirit. As a result, every part of me was mistreated by…me.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since my college days. I’ve learned that there is nothing I can do to earn God’s love and make him value me more than He already does. How could I forget that He was the one who formed me in my mother’s womb? How could I forget that He created me in His own image? How could I not honor Him by taking care of the body, mind, and spirit that He formed—in detail—when He created me?

Since taking care of myself was a completely foreign concept to me, it didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up one morning and begin eating healthy meals and taking time for myself. I truly struggled with how to start valuing and treating myself like a daughter of The King.

“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that are as healthy in body as you are strong in Spirit.” — 3 John 1:2

 

God is glorified when we take care of the temples He gave us, and it is important that we do so in body, mind, and spirit.

Feeding your temple: BODY

In college, I was barely eating. I skipped meals to make time for all of my activities, and when I did eat, I only ate cereal, ramen noodles, and fries from the dollar menu at fast-food restaurants. Talk about nutritious! However, I realized that I wanted to be energized to do work for God’s Kingdom, but the way I was fueling my body was leaving me tired, weak, and lethargic. It was time for a diet change.

If you’re active on social media and spend your life online—like most people do—you are most likely aware of the constant pressure to eat healthier, lose weight, and feel your best. However, with my focus being on God’s glory, I chose to change my diet to ensure that His temple that He created was thriving. He is my motivation for healthy living – not how my body looks.

So, if you are looking to make some changes in how you feed your temple, here are a few tips:

Take time out to prepare three healthy meals a day. Breakfast is as important as lunch and lunch is as important as dinner. It is so tempting to skip a meal when we are on-the-go, but we are truly doing ourselves a disservice when we do this.

Start small. It can be overwhelming to change every eating habit at once. Start with breakfast. Set an alarm for 20 minutes earlier than you normally get up to allow yourself time to prepare and eat a nutritious meal.

If you have a sweet tooth like me, look up healthy alternatives online to satisfy that craving. My go-to is a chocolate peanut butter smoothie that is made with raw cacao powder and organic peanut butter. Super healthy and super delicious! It doesn’t have to be hard to feed your body delicious, nutritious meals. You will feel more energized and your body will thank you.

Feeding your temple: MIND

I believe that this falls under the category of taking time for yourself. Let’s face it. We are busy people. This society thrives on “busyness.” I fell into that trap in college and I still have trouble with it today as a wife and mom.

Things have to get done! There is no time for myself! Sleep? What is that?

Sound familiar?

However, if we neglect sleep and fail to take time for ourselves, our minds become cluttered. And, I realized that when my mind is cluttered, I struggle to hear God and stay in tune with His presence. I am here to glorify the Lord through my every step and if I can’t hear Him, due to a cluttered mind, how can I glorify Him?

I recommend writing down areas in your life that you can see as mind clutter. For me, it’s social media, my busy schedule, and a constant need for perfectionism. Once you figure out what your areas are, write down ways to clear your mind from these things.

I’m going to make a commitment to find time every day to be social media-free. I am going to commit to saying “no” to something on my agenda that just isn’t important and replace that time with something a bit more relaxing.

What commitments can you make to clear your mind? Whatever they are, write them down to help you stick to them. Place Post-It Notes around your house with your commitments. Set reminders on your phone. Write them down in your planner. Ask an accountability partner to remind you of your commitments.

Feeding your temple: SPIRIT

Finally, it is important to feed your spirit. It is the spirit of The Lord that lives inside of you. It is the spirit that God intricately created that makes you, YOU. It is your relationship with the Holy Spirit. Feeding this area of your temple is so important.

However, can I be honest with you? This is the hardest area for me to feed and keep healthy. Can anyone else relate? Why is it easier to scroll through social media than it is to open our Bibles and receive the Truth?

I’ll be the first to admit that planning a healthy meal is much easier for me than devoting time to my relationship with God. I am so thankful for God’s grace and strength in this huge area of weakness for me.

One thing that has truly helped me in this area is getting connected in my church community. Serving in the Church and being a part of small groups Bible studies are both ways to fuel my spirit. They are great ways to ensure that I am taking time out to refresh with The Lord.

However, alone time with the Lord is equally as important and should be a part of our daily lives.

One of my favorite ways to incorporate alone time is to worship in the car while I am driving. No phone, no distractions, just me and the Lord.

While working on your relationship with God, keep in mind that we are not earning God’s approval by spending more time with Him. We cannot do anything to make Him love us more. We are strengthening our relationship with Him because He desires us so much! Don’t let the enemy turn your efforts into a guilt trap when you fall short, because, the truth is, we will always fall short. We are human.

Our Heavenly Father gave each of us these beautiful temples that were made in His image. It is imperative that we take care of them and treasure them just as He treasures us. When we do so, we are making ourselves even more available for Him to use us at His will for His glory, and we are fueled and ready to live the lives that God has called us to live.

What are some healthy ways that you use to feed your temple? Share them below.