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COVID-19: Diets that boost immune system – Experts

There is no single food item that can prevent or cure coronavirus (COVID-19) at present, the Dietitians Association of Nigeria has said. The association, however,…

There is no single food item that can prevent or cure coronavirus (COVID-19) at present, the Dietitians Association of Nigeria has said.

The association, however, said an adequate diet would help support the body’s immune system to fight infections. It said its attention was drawn to several claims regarding nutrition and COVID-19, and that dietitian-nutritionists have also received several questions concerning what to eat to prevent coronavirus infection.

The dieticians said their association and relevant regulatory agencies have also not approved any single supplement or combinations to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. “There is no evidence that any supplement or health product will protect the body against the coronavirus.

“Nigerians are hence advised to be wary of unregulated supplement claims,” the association said in a statement signed by its National President, Prof. Elizabeth Kanayo Ngwu.

Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19

The dieticians said the immune system depends on both macro and micro-nutrients (substances in foods) for proper functioning and as such, many nutrients were involved in the proper functioning of the immune system.

“These nutrients cannot be sourced from a single food rather by consuming a variety of healthy foods. A healthy diet will, therefore, strengthen the immune system and enable it to play its role of defending the body against infections and fight diseases. Examples of these nutrients include proteins, vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D, copper, folate, iron, selenium and zinc, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, etc,” they said.

They advised that to obtain these nutrients, food selection should be done from different food groups and that these groups are:

Cereals and grains: The foods in this group include rice, maize, wheat, bread, pasta, hungry rice (acha), sorghum and others.

Roots, tubers and plantain: Examples of foods in these groups include yam, cassava, garri, fufu, plantain,  alubo and others.

Legumes and nuts: Examples of foods in this group include beans, bambaranut (okpa), yam, bean (Azam or Ijiriji or Ozaki), soybeans, walnut, cashew nut, groundnut and others.

Meat, poultry and fish: Examples include beef, chicken, eggs, fish and meat.

Milk and milk products: These include milk, yoghurt, cheese, nono, and other milk products.

Fruits: include banana, avocado pear, mango, watermelon, pawpaw, orange, apple, African star apple (udara or agbalumo), Velvet Tamarind (icheku, awin, tsamiya) and many other common ones in various states.

Vegetables: include all leaves used in cooking meals, carrots, garden eggs, cucumber, green beans, onions and many others.

Water: Drink clean uncontaminated water, at least three litres a day (about six sachets). Do not wait until you are thirsty.

According to the experts, in order to keep the immune system functioning optimally, people should maintain the consumption of an adequate diet with lots of variety.

An adequate diet should supply nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals, among others in the right quality and quantity. Fruits and vegetables are especially important; selecting a colourful array; such as carrots, green leafy vegetables, fresh tomatoes, oranges, will provide you with vitamins which play important roles in immune function.

Once you are consistent with an adequate diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle (exercise, not smoking, adequate sleep, managing stress etc.) you would not need any supplement marketed around COVID-19.

The dieticians’ association also called on the government to come to the aid of Nigerians who could not afford food to eat, especially numerous daily wage earners and unemployed youths.

“While citizens do their best to stay at home to help reduce the spread of the disease, it is also important that necessary measures be taken to cushion the effects of staying at home, especially as it concerns food supplies to the poor,” the association said.

Food safety and hygiene

The dieticians said there was no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 was transmitted through food handling or food preparation, adding that the primary aim of food safety and hygiene was to prevent food poisoning and other food-borne illnesses.

“Poor food handling and inadequate food safety can cause infections especially in young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune system,” they stated.

They said some of the ways to maintain adequate food safety and hygiene include:

–   Washing hands thoroughly with soap and running water.

–   Cleaning surfaces regularly with disinfectant.

–   Keeping appliances clean.

–   Washing food products like fresh vegetables and fruits with salt and water (under running water if available) before usage.

–   Use separate cutting boards for raw meats, vegetables and cooked foods.

–   Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.

Protective measures against coronavirus

They advised the public to protect their health and that of others by doing the following:

– Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

– Sanitise with an alcohol-based hand rub or sanitiser. This would kill viruses that may be on your hands.

– Maintain social distancing. This means keeping at least two metres (six feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing, to protect you from liquid droplets which may contain the virus from coughs or sneezes of people who may have coronavirus disease.

– Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth unnecessarily. The hands pick up viruses from surfaces and once contaminated, can transfer the virus to the eye, nose or mouth and make you sick.

Practice respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow when you cough or sneeze. If you use tissue, dispose of it immediately.

The dieticians also advised the public to improve physical and mental activity as they remained in the confines of their homes. “There is the need to find space for little indoor exercises appropriate for our age and physiological states, eg aerobics, rope skipping etc.

“You are also encouraged to exercise your mind and emotions for general wellbeing through games like ludo, scrabble, chess etc. Reach out to loved ones and engage in heart-warming and cheerful conversations.”

They advised the public to receive information on nutrition from trustworthy sources, adding that Registered Dietitians-Nutritionists (RDNs) are the health professionals trained in providing evidence-based information and individualised dietary advice/counselling.

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