An April article published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition asks tough questions about current public health strategies for improving Americans’ diets. Why? Because our typical high-sugar, high-fat diets (lacking nutrition) make our nation more vulnerable to COVID-19. Public health experts suggest improved nutrition policy is the answer.
While many North Carolinians follow a nutritious diet, others allow fried chicken, biscuits and sweet tea to take precedence over fresh produce. The Standard American Diet (which ranks low on the scale of best dietary patterns) is largely composed of foods that are calorie rich yet nutrient poor. Tack on COVID-19’s isolation, financial loss and changed grocery access, and both food insecurity and stress eating skyrocket.
While nutrition quality declines, susceptibility to chronic and infectious disease increases. It’s bad news, since nutrition is imperative to a strong immune system, our primary tool in resilient disease resistance.
Nutrition in COVID-19 Impacts More Than You Think
Poor diet quality affects all aspects of your body, including your immune health. Nutrition science has demonstrated the need for specific nutrient balance to yield a strong immune system. You need nutrients like iron, zinc and vitamins A, E, B6 and B12 to maintain immune function. Whereas a diet low in calories and protein, while excessive in sugar and unhealthy fats, may hinder the body’s ability to fight off a looming virus.
Australian research released in March captures exactly how a healthy immune system can fight off the COVID-19 virus. Its study drew from the way one COVID-19 patient recovered from the disease. How? An immune system like a defense system armed with nutritionally-sound artillery.
Epidemiologists continue to explore data from prior infectious outbreaks to learn which clues may prevent further decline in public health. So far, one key public health indicator for resilience is nutrition status. Ultimately, the research spurred by COVID-19 points to the need for broader frameworks of public health activities.
The Push to Get Nutrition Policy Right
Since the pandemic took effect, profiteers quickly marketed their quick-fix solutions for immune support. Expensive and unproven cures such as teas, tinctures and supplements flooded social media to make a buck from our fears.
If a simple cup of tea prevented the spread of the pandemic, we would all be celebrating in daily tea parties. Unfortunately, real answers will take more effort. Researchers in one report suggest public health entities continue to provide extra food for maintained nutrition during COVID-19 (specifically fresh and local produce options).
Public health experts are pushing for nutrition policies to support these efforts.
In a letter from the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, experts proclaim “these [public health-t0-nutrition] relationships should be further examined in future dietary guidelines.” Food and nutrition experts are also pushing to establish a National Institute of Nutrition at the National Institutes of Health. That push has intensified now more than ever, since nutrition and disease research have become essential for our COVID-19 recovery.
While multiple hunger relief organizations (such as TABLE Inc. and Emergency Meals to You) serve North Carolina, their focus isn’t exactly their focus. Perhaps if nutrition policies win the vote, greater distribution and access to fresh produce, healthy fats and lean proteins will form the NEW American Diet. As a result, our immunity against infections such as COVID-19 would only improve.
Some organizations have made the switch already, moving toward a plant-based approach entirely. However, more education and assistance need to come alongside the foreign-seeming foods. If you simply received a bag of winter squash, broccolini, spinach, and dry beans, would you actually consume it?
Nutrition policies may start a national shift toward healthier diets and greater resilience. But additional nudges in how we view and understand food may also become necessary.