Transitioning to a plant-based diet [The facts and benefits]

Transitioning to a plant-based diet [The facts and benefits]

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Are you concerned about your health and the type of food your eating? If you’re reading this, recent events may have triggered you to reconsider what’s on your menu. You’re not alone. Eating animal-based products may be more of a headache than it’s worth.

Most physicians and health services encourage a diet of mainly plant-based food. Nutritionists suggest reducing quantities of meat, dairy products, and eggs, and trying to refrain from refined and processed as much as possible.

“Plant-based nutrition has exploded in popularity, and many advantages have been well documented over the past several decades. Not only is there a broad expansion of the research database supporting the myriad benefits of plant-based diets, but also health care practitioners are seeing awe-inspiring results with their patients across multiple unique subspecialties. Plant-based diets have been associated with lowering overall and ischemic heart disease mortality; supporting sustainable weight management; reducing medication needs; lowering the risk for most chronic diseases; decreasing the incidence and severity of high-risk conditions, including obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and hyperglycemia; and even possibly reversing advanced coronary artery disease and type diabetes.”

Plant-Based Diets: A Physician’s Guide, NCBI

Having stated all that, Jordan and Mikhaila Peterson and others swear that being a carnivore has improved their health, even saving their lives. That may well be the case for individuals with unique health circumstances. There are thousands of people with allergies and health conditions that need a contextual diet.

There’s no such thing as the best way to eat. It’s your life and your choice. If someone else is a vegan, it doesn’t make them higher than mighty. It’s what they feel is right for them. The first step is to consider what’s right for you. Seek advice from an expert nutritionist that understands your medical history and circumstance.

If you’ve been a meat and dairy eater all your life, it can be a pain to start messing around with your menu. There are so many things to consider— sharing a budget, and grocery list with others, where to go when dining out, replacements for your favorite meals, the list goes on. It gets complicated. If you are considering a transition towards plant-based, whole foods, there are three ways to look at it:

A. Feeling grateful to be alive, doing what’s right for you, and exploring new culinary experiences. The outcome, a more satisfying life.

B. Looking at plant-food as a pain in the butt, and ruminating about your miserable existence. The upshot, becoming a nervous wreck, giving up with the stress, and knowing you could have done better.

C. Don’t give a crap and carry on as you are. What will be, will be.

Common concerns about plant-based diets

What are the most common concerns about making a transition to a plant-based diet?

1. Are there plant-based replacements for my favorite meat and dairy meals?

Contrary to claims, plant-based food, cannot replicate all your favorite meat and dairy. It’s simply not true. Some replacements won’t be the same taste or texture. There are brave attempts to mimic animal-based foods, but tofu and soy are not meat, and vegan cheese is not cheddar.

You can recreate the ‘total hamburger and chips’ experience with a vegan alternative. But a vegan-burger is not minced meat; it’s a new burger experience. Time is a benevolent friend, and after a while of eating your adopted vegan-burger, you may not even remember the taste of a meat burger. You’ll wonder what all the fuss was in the first place, and who knows what future food-technology will bring.

The point is to try new culinary experiences. It’s possible to approximate some meat and dairy meals. You may even come close. Other attempts at replication, won’t be in the same ballpark. Pick and choose what’s right for you.

What you do get when diving into this new universe, is a vast array of delicious veggie-based alternatives. The health benefits are startling. The creativity of plant-based recipes expands the scope of your diet. The ideas that plant-based recipe sites offer are curiously surprising.

Check out some of the scrumptious recipes at Vegan Richa!



2. Do vegetables provide enough protein?

Getting enough protein is a big concern when considering transitioning to plant-based foods. As the primary building block in growing and repairing body tissue, it also helps the functioning of the hormone and immune systems.

The building blocks of protein are amino acids. The human body needs 22 types of amino acids to function. These are the same 22 amino acids plants use to build their proteins.

The protein in all animals originates in plants or plant-like phytoplankton.

Nine of the amino acids are essential to our diet (EAAs). The rest the body can produce and are considered non-essential. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are complete proteins. Where do humans get their protein? In reality, humans get protein from animals and plants.

Essential Amino Acids

EssentialConditionalNon-Essential
HistidineArginineAlanine
IsoleucineCysteineAspartic Acid
LeucineGlutamineAsparagine
LysineGlycineGlutamic Acid
MethionineProlineSerine
PhenylalanineTyrosineSelenocysteine
Threonine Pyrrolysine
Tryptophan  
Valine  

Animal sources of EAA protein are red meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, poultry, and eggs.

Plants sources of EAA protein are mature soybeans, cashew nuts, quinoa, pumpkin and squash seeds, peas, wheat, and rice.

The content of EAAs in plants varies a great deal, amongst different plants. Generally, plants have a lower content of proteins than animal food, but sufficient to cover the recommended daily allowance. Soybeans have an even higher EAA content per gram than chicken.

The body recycles protein quite efficiently and uses other nutrients such as carbs for exercise. Generally, people eat roughly twice the protein they need. But athletes and people that train frequently need more protein to build and repair muscle.

Problems relating to meat and dairy consumption


As omnivores, humans can get their protein from animal-based and plant-based food. The problem with consuming a lot of red meat are the levels of high saturated fat that contribute to heart disease. Also, modern farms that produce meat, chicken, and dairy, add hormones and antibiotics to the feed to increase meat and milk production. These additives pass to humans in consumption and impact health.

There are also concerns regarding soy, relating to the high concentration of plant-estrogen (phytoestrogen), similar in function to human estrogen, but much weaker. But the research is inconclusive.

“Soy is a unique food that is widely studied for its estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects on the body. Studies may seem to present conflicting conclusions about soy, but this is largely due to the wide variation in how soy is studied. Results of recent population studies suggest that soy has either a beneficial or neutral effect on various health conditions. Soy is a nutrient-dense source of protein that can safely be consumed several times a week and is likely to provide health benefits—especially when eaten as an alternative to red and processed meat. “

T.H.Chan, Harvard School of Public Health

But as mentioned earlier, there are several sources of plant-based proteins with essential amino acids. If you’re concerned with reaching your recommended daily allowance for EEA, proteins, soy, beans, grains, and seeds will all take care of the job in the right quantities.

Interestingly, several large animals are herbivores and not ruminants, subsist on an all-plant diet —elephants, rhinos, horses, and gorillas. All of these animals have extensive muscle tissue and live in good health.

Protein in Plant-based foods

FoodQuantityProtein
Soy Protein Powder100 Gm90.0 Gm
Seitan with Soy Sauce100 Gm75.0 Gm
Yellow Split Pea Powder20 Gm15.0 Gm
Soybeans (Cooked)100 Gm17.0 Gm
Hemp seeds (powder)30 Gm15.0 Gm
Tempeh1/2 cup15.0 Gm
Almonds (chopped)1/4 cup14.0 Gm
Mycoprotein1/2 cup13.0 Gm
Beans & Rice1 cup12.0 Gm
Tofu (soybean curds)1/2 cup10.0 Gm
Peanuts1/4 cup9.5 Gm
Lentils cooked1/2 cup8.8 Gm
Spirulina2 Tbl Spns8.0 Gm
Edamame beans1/2 cup8.0 Gm
Quinoa (cooked)1 cup8.0 Gm
Chickpeas1/2 cup7.3 Gm
Potato (Baked)1 large baked7.0 Gm
Walnuts (chopped)1/4 cup4.5 Gm
Broccolimedium stalk4.3 Gm
Hazelnuts (chopped)1/4 cup4.3 Gm
Ezekiel bread1 slice4.0 Gm
Chia seeds2 tablespoon4.0 Gm
Kale1 cup2.9 Gm
Mushrooms (sliced)1 cup2.2 Gm

 

3. Do plant-based foods have enough B12 essential minerals?

If you now rely on meat and dairy, for B12, calcium, and iron, you’ll need to learn which combination of plants offers the same balance of nutrients.
Now let’s look at some facts about essential vitamins and minerals, called into question on a plant-based diet.

B12

Bacteria produce vitamin B12 (cobalamin) in soil. For the bacteria to produce B12, the soil must be rich in cobalt. Ideally, animals and humans transfer the bacteria to their gut when they eat other meat, dairy, or plants.

The reality is modern agriculture is destructive for B12 bacteria development. Water cleansing with chlorine, pesticides, and antibiotics kill the bacteria in the soil.

Animals don’t receive enough B12 unless fed with grass from cobalt-rich soil. The vast majority of farm animals raised in the meat and dairy industry, such as cows, chickens, pigs, and lambs, receive B12 supplements.

“Young ruminants require supplemental vitamin B12 prior to full rumen development”.

DSM, The largest supplier of animal feed in the world.

The recommended daily amount of vitamin B-12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms. Although the meat and dairy industry fortifies feed with B12, up to 39% of people tested (including meat-eaters), have insufficient levels of B12 in their blood. The sure way to know you’re getting enough B12 is by taking supplements.

Note: These daily allowances assume that the body absorbs the B12 ingested. Older age groups above 60 years, face an increasing problem of absorbing B12.

The following conditions may prevent absorption of B12 as you age:

  • Low levels of stomach acid
  • Medications for diabetes (metformin)
  • Regular intake of alcohol
  • Other digestive inhibitors

Unless you are in tip-top shape, many dieticians recommend higher doses of B12.

  • 50 mcg cyanocobalamin (B12) per day
  • People over the age of 65 should take at least 1000 mcg cyanocobalamin per day.

Take into consideration that many foods are B12-fortified. You can check the amounts on the packaging.

Calcium

Nutrition experts recommend a minimum of 600 mg of calcium daily. Beyond the marketing hype of the dairy industry, dairy products are not the only way to ensure you’re getting enough calcium. Plant-based foods contain calcium. For the recommended daily intake, as long as you understand, what you’re eating, you’ll be Ok. The following might surprise you.

  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and bok choy, are 15-30% more absorbable than the calcium found in cow’s milk. There are exceptions. Spinach, chard, and beet greens have high oxalate levels that prevent calcium absorption.
  • Tofu has exceptionally high amounts of calcium and contains 86% of calcium RDI in half a cup (126 grams)
  • Legumes such as winged beans have 244 mg of calcium to a cup. That’s 24% of calcium RDI. White beans are also a good source, with one cup (179 grams) of cooked white beans providing 13% of calcium RDI.
  • Amaranth grain (cooked), One cup (246 grams) provides 116 mg of calcium or 12% of the RDI.
  • Rhubarb has high levels of calcium, but the high levels of oxalates allow for 25% of calcium absorption.
  • Amaranth, one cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth grain provides 116 mg of calcium, (12% of the RDI)
  • Almonds, Figs, and Edamame (young soybeans) contain small amounts of calcium, in differing proportions, of 5-10% per cup.
  • Fortified plant-based foods such as Soy milk contain calcium.

Iodine

Plant-based sources of iodine.

  • Sea vegetables such as nori, kombu, and wakame are excellent sources of iodine. Kombu Kelp contains 2,984 mcg per gram. That’s almost 2000% of the iodine RDI. Be careful, consuming too much kelp as it can cause thyroid problems, for those that are vulnerable.

Sprinkling small amounts of crumbled seaweed in soups, casseroles, stews, salads, and pasta, will cover the iodine you need in your diet.

  • Iodized Salt contains 71 mcg of iodine in 1/4 teaspoon, providing 47% of the iodine RDI.
  • Prunes. Five dried prunes provide 13 mgm of iodine, 9% of iodine RDI.
  •  Quality multivitamin supplements contain the daily requirements of iodine.

Iron

Many plant-based foods, such as legumes (beans), lentils, tofu, spinach, and cashews, contain iron. Menstruating women, regardless of what types of food they eat, should eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C for better absorption.

Be careful not to take too much as this can also cause health problems. Too much iron can lead to serious heart problems, liver disease, and diabetes.

“Good plant sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa, and fortified breakfast cereal.”

The Vegan Society

Taking multivitamins is the simplest way to ensure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals. Many brands offer a variety of products, but not all are equal. For a comprehensive list of brands and their rankings, check the Multivitamin Guide.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are replacements for omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, such as salmon. But like other animal protein, fish get their omegas from sea algae.

The problem is, fish from the sea and rivers contain toxic pollutants, like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Testing of salmon from fish farms has shown that farmed-salmon as being one of the most toxic foods worldwide.

Regardless of these alarming facts about toxins, unless you’re eating fish every day, you aren’t getting enough Omega-3. Plants can provide the omegas you need for the necessary daily intake. Walnuts, ground flaxseeds, and ground chia seeds are omega-3 rich whole foods.

To be on the safe side, you can take 250 mg daily of pollutant-free supplements with omega-3s from yeast or algae. Nutritionists recommend Omega-3 supplements for older men, pregnant women, and those breastfeeding.

4. Is it more expensive to eat fresh fruit and vegetables?

The cost of plant-based eating is a common concern. Before succumbing to this misconception, there are some interesting facts to consider:

  • Beans, legumes, and whole grains cost less than meat or fish
  • By shopping for seasonal fruits, veggies, whole grains, and beans, a plant-based diet is more economical.
  • The long-term health benefits of eating plant-based food, far outway the financial costs. People don’t even think about future medical bills. A lifetime of eating meat-based products can lead to coronary heart disease and cancer.
  • Quality grass-fed meat and organic dairy are expensive. Processed animal-based commercial foods are unhealthy. The budget for meat and dairy can go towards healthy plant-based foods that are cheaper and more beneficial.
  • The highest cost of all. Everyone forgets the hidden cost of damage caused by animal farming on the environment and the impact on climate change.

5. Vegan and vegetarian products aren’t necessarily healthier

Going vegan or vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s healthier if you’re still eating processed foods. A significant reason people have an unhealthy menu is the reliance on fast-food.

It takes learning and effort to shop for alternative plant-based whole foods. Preparing a healthy diet deepens your appreciation of food. Expanding your knowledge and learning how to cook new recipes makes for a richer experience as you see things from a new perspective.

6.Difficulty in achieving your optimal weight, both up and down

There’s a tendency for people to be lean, on a vegan diet. Studies have shown that meat-eaters have the highest BMI and Vegans, the lowest. Vegetarians and pescetarians fall somewhere between.

But it’s not always the case; some vegans gain weight. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Portions are too large. Understanding the nutritional values of plant-based foods and planning is essential. There’s a tendency to think you can eat what you like, as long as it’s plant-based. It’s not true. Legumes, seeds, and nuts pack a high calorific amount of nutrients.
  • The balance of nutrition is wrong. You’re not eating enough protein. If you plug your daily intake into a food app, you’ll see right away how many calories your eating. You’ll also get the balance of protein and carbs. Tahini, for example, has a very high calorific count, olive oil as well, so be careful to measure how much you’re using.
  • Planning your menu also means timing when you eat. It’s better to eat early in the day, rather than before you go to bed.
  • Don’t eat vegan or vegetarian junk food. Fried chips, crisps, tortillas, and pasta are high in calories. Plant-based desserts such as coconut milk ice cream, and frozen yogurts, have high sugar content. That’ll put on the pounds.
  • Hydration is essential. Reduce high nutrition shakes and sugar-filled natural juices and drink plain water. In any case, women should be drinking 2.5L of water a day and men around 3.5L. If you’re working out for long, intense durations, you should be drinking even more.

That’s why it’s essential to understand what you’re eating before ravaging these new endeavors. It’s easy to lose or put on too much weight if you don’t plan your diet well.

Some practical advice

It requires more effort to plan your meals and discover food to your taste, but the health rewards are exponential.

Transforming your diet to plant-based foods is also very interesting. You learn more about the relationship between your body and the health benefits of different plants. You’ll discover that we’re part of a giant ecosystem that depends on one another.

Nutritionists tell you to take things slowly. Learn about food values before planning changes to your diet. You don’t have to change your entire pantry at once.

To start, identify a meal you regularly eat that you know isn’t healthy. Switch that meal for a new healthy plant-based recipe. There are tons of vegetarian and vegan recipe websites.

Gradually build a list of nutritionally healthy recipes. Do that consistently over six months, and you’ll find not only that you’ve transformed your menu, but your health as well. You’ll feel better and look better.

Food Regulations are an Existential Threat [Fueling the argument for plant-based diets]

Food Regulations are an Existential Threat [Fueling the argument for plant-based diets]

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The most alarming event in modern history, this century, is the Coronavirus pandemic. The Chinese government has claimed it’s the result of animal-based food sold in a Wuhan wet market.

International intelligence agencies suspect the virus may have been the result of negligence at a Wuhan lab. If what the Chinese government claims is correct, and the origin is a wet-market, then the wet markets must be closed immediately. Yet they have been reopened.

Whichever the case, China must be held responsible for lax regulations in managing the storage and distribution of animal products. The SARS-CoV-2 virus (commonly known as Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been transmitted from animals and adapted itself to humans.

Either close the wet markets, or close the labs. The Chinese government can’t have it both ways. They must be held to account, for the hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, from their regulatory failure. The economic fallout will only bring further misery to the lives of millions.

“SARS-CoV-2 appears to have been a zoonotic infection that has adapted to humans. Origin is uncertain, although bats implicated”.

John Hopkins

The irresponsible regulation of food products should now be a global concern. More so than climate change, with its immediate impact. Many countries don’t regulate the food industry sufficiently, and more specifically, how animals are farmed, stored, and sold. 

It’s not as if this is the first time an epidemic has originated in this manner. There have been several epidemics arising from the transfer of viruses from animals to humans, with dire consequences.
To name a few:

  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), 2012
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), 2003
  • Swine Flu, 1998

“MERS-CoV likely came from an animal source in the Arabian Peninsula. Researchers have found MERS-CoV in camels from several countries. Studies have shown that direct contact with camels is a risk factor for human infection with MERS-CoV”.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

“SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) – virus identified in 2003. SARS-CoV is thought to be an animal virus from an as-yet-uncertain animal reservoir, perhaps bats, that spread to other animals (civet cats) and first infected humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002”.

World Health Organization

“In 1998, swine flu was found in pigs in four U.S. states. Within a year, it had spread through pig populations across the United States. Scientists found this virus had originated in pigs as a recombinant form of flu strains from birds and humans”.

Wikipedia

Hypothetically, imagine what would happen if a virus had the infection rate of current SARS-CoV-2, and the 50% fatality rate of Ebola, or the 34% fatality rate of MERS. The ongoing spread of infection would result in the deaths of millions of people worldwide.

The possibility of this threat is real and imminent. If the U.S. military were to recognize such a hypothetical virus as a threat from an enemy state, they would graduate the state of alert to DEFCON 1.

The most pressing debate that needs to take place today is the lack of regulation in the animal-based food industry. The actual cost to human health from animal-based products is an existential issue with global ramifications for human life as we know it.

The threat of viruses that stem from the production, storage, and distribution of animal-based foods is the most significant argument for a plant-based diet and perhaps, even Veganism.

The trend towards plant-based eating

With overwhelming evidence that a mostly plant-based diet is beneficial to health, physicians unanimously encourage plant-based food to be a significant part of a healthy diet.

” Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods. We present a case study as an example of the potential health benefits of such a diet. Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity.”

NCBI, Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets

A controversial documentary promoting plant-based food

Four months after the release of the film, The Game Changers, in early 2018, produced by Joseph Pace and James Wilks, available on Netflix, there was a spike in the already growing trend towards Veganism.

The film’s website core principles state the following:

” The preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that an animal-based diet — where foods like meat, eggs and dairy are the foundation of most meals — decreases overall health, increases the risk of numerous diseases, and reduces our lifespans. Conversely, the more plants you eat, the healthier you tend to be, decreasing your risk of many major diseases while increasing the quality and length of our lives”.

The Game changers Movie Website

Statements like this aroused the ire of people such as Chris Kresser, a proponent of combining both animal and plant-based diets.
Chris appeared on the Joe Rogan show and attempted to debunk The Game Changers movie. I suspect he now regrets that decision.

The film’s producer and star, James Wilks, countered the debunk in another round at a later J.R. show, challenging Chris face-to-face. Well prepared, James arrived not for a battle, but war. The majority of his counters proved Chris wrong (making thoroughly sure Chris’s arguments were buried six feet under).

I felt quite sorry for Chris, as one or two of his points need consideration. Lessons learned! Don’t mess with James Wilks, a champion MMA fighter. There are studies both for and against eating animal-based foods. There are few, if any, that contend plant-based foods are unhealthy, apart from young kids that don’t want to eat their greens.

Glaring problems for animal-based food production

Ther are several legitimate arguments for plant-based eating and the concerns about animal-based food production and consumption.

  • Lack of sufficient regulation in the animal-based food industry, with the acute danger from the transmission of deadly viruses from animals
  • Cruelty to animals in the meat, dairy, and fish industries
  • The meat and dairy industry’s destruction of the environment
  • Meat and dairy production exacerbates climate change
  • Eating plant-based food is more healthy
  • The health benefits of an animal-based diet are questionable
  • Plant-based farming is better for the global economy 
  • Plant-based agriculture provides more food worldwide

One of the reasons omnivores get annoyed at Vegans is the perceived attitude of self-righteousness. The question of morality in eating animals is a weaker argument that’s unlikely to sway the majority of meat and fish eaters. Even more abhorrent is dictating to people how to live.

Increasing your consumption of plant-based food is one thing—becoming an all-out Vegan is a whole other matter. Veganism demands a complete revamp of the menu, a personal choice, not to be forced upon others.

Debatable arguments for becoming a vegan

  • Eating animal-based food is unhealthy
    In the context of practice in the food industry, how animals are raised, and the content of their feed, maybe. However, how healthy, eating animal-based foods, that are raised in healthy conditions with the right feed, is scientifically questionable. There are plenty of studies that would support arguments for and against.
  • The eating of animals, birds, and fish is abhorrent
    The hatred in eating animal-based food is subjective and controversial. New TV adverts that illustrate the connection of meat on supermarket shelves with living animals have a significant effect on shoppers that haven’t hunted their food for several generations. The vegan “Extra Fresh” TV commercial has caused considerable debate in Israel, a country with a relatively high percentage of vegans and vegetarians per capita globally.

    Yet, the vast majority of omnivores would disagree and are happy to eat meat and the vast majority of the animal kingdom prey on one another.

Israel’s Controversial Extra Fresh TV Commercial
  • Vegans are slimmer
    Leading a well-planned vegan diet will result in healthy weight management. Yet, without careful planning, eating the wrong mix of plant-based foods including processed foods and food containing high quantities of carbs and sugar can lead to weight gain and obesity.
  • Vegans are happier
    Vegans may feel healthier, but happiness is a choice. Many meat-eaters and dairy eaters are perfectly content.
  • Vegan food is delicious
    There’s plenty of tasty plant-based cuisine, but it depends on who’s cooking and what on the menu. Animal-based meals taste just as good, if not better. A lot depends on who does the cooking and what’s on the menu. Taste is subjective.

In light of recent events. What’s your view on food regulation, plant-based food, and Veganism? Have your opinions changed?

Comments welcome.

Fight the Coronavirus [10 Ways to Boost Your Immune System]

Fight the Coronavirus [10 Ways to Boost Your Immune System]

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Coronavirus is harder on a weak immune system
Make sure you maintain hygiene.
Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Get enough sleep.
Do moderate exercise regularly.
Take nutrient supplements.
Use fresh garlic in your food.
Include probiotics in your diet.
Eat more flavonoids.
Reduce alcohol intake.
Practice mindfulness meditation.

For millions told to self-isolate during the Coronavirus pandemic, the shift in routine is dramatic. With change comes ambiguity. Many are resilient, maintaining a positive spirit. Those that can, are working from home, with family’s doing their best to occupy their children.  Hundreds of thousands are volunteering to help public health services.  

But what about the many that are unable to work from home and are left worrying about their future? Some governments have risen to the occasion with financial assistance, others have left the self-employed facing financial ruin and poverty. 

Millions are in health and financial survival mode. If you’re not strapped for money and can afford groceries, it’s essential to try and lead a healthy lifestyle and use your time wisely. Sitting around and moping will only make matters worse. 

It’s easy to drift towards eating junk food, drinking alcohol to drown the pain of uncertainty. Even worse, if you have the money, allow yourself to zone out on recreational drugs. Doing so, may numb the pain for a while, but long-term use will only lead to lack of purpose, productivity, paranoia and depression. Alcohol, drugs and inactivity, all weaken the immune system, which is discussed later on in further detail. 

If you’re in lock-down, it may go on for a while, but unlikely to go on forever. It’s easy to slip into conversations, moaning about what’s going on.  But complaining, won’t solve your problems. It means taking responsibility to make the best of things, by positioning yourself to survive financially, physically and mentally.

It may mean finding radical ways of occupying your time and being open to new (legal) ways of earning a living. For example, by volunteering to help public services, you may inadvertently find new opportunities. Serendipity brings about new ideas and connections with people. Perhaps join a helpline and even get paid, working from home.

What can you do to prepare your body in the fight against Coronavirus and strengthen your body’s immune system?

Coronavirus is harder on a weak immune system

It is already well documented and publicized that Coronavirus (COVID19) can infect people of all ages. But people with an underlying health condition and a weak immune system, are more susceptible to severe illness.

“Most persons infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and recover. However, some go on to experience more serious illness and may require hospital care. The risk of serious illness rises with age: people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 40. People with weakened immune systems and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart, and lung disease are also more vulnerable to a serious illness”.

How Corona Virus Spreads, World Health Organization

Social distancing is essential

The World Health Organization and all governments advice on social distancing during this pandemic. Where there is a lock-down, stay at home. 

Social distancing measures are steps you can take to reduce social interaction between people. This will help reduce the transmission of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

  1. Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of Coronavirus
  2. Avoid non-essential use of public transport when possible
  3. Work from home, where possible.
  4. Avoid large and small gatherings in public spaces
  5. Avoid gatherings with friends and family.
  6. Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

Social Distancing, Gov.uk

10 Ways you can do to boost your immune system

As a new virus, Coronavirus is different from Influenza. Scientists don’t understand what is needed to fight the CoVID19 strain. It can take one year to eighteen months to develop a vaccine. If the virus infects your body, it’s up to your state of health and immune system, to resist the effects and create antibodies.  

Doctor Irminne Van Dyken, MD has given excellent advice as to how to boost the immune system

1. Make sure you maintain hygiene.

Viruses access the body through the first line of the immune system’s defences — the skin, the eyes, nose, and mouth. Maintaining hygiene at all times is critical. Protective face-masks, alcogel, and rubber gloves are definite first measures. Often overlooked, is cleanliness at home, including your clothes. If you go outside in the vicinity of others, you don’t live with, shower, change and wash your clothes upon your return, by keeping the home clean with disinfectant, wards off bacteria and viruses. Maintaining a robust immune system also means avoiding contamination from other infections, apart from COVID19.

It’s easier to fight one battle at a time.

2. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

The human immune system is a network of stages and pathways, and every step of this complex system depends on micronutrients. Many of the micronutrients needed by the immune system to function, come from plant-based foods. Doctors strongly advise prioritizing fruit and vegetables in your diet. 

Foods with a low nutritional value will not provide the necessary nutrients to boost the immune system to fight Coronavirus. If you need a reminder, processed foods, fast foods, refined sugar, and refined carbohydrates fall into the category of foods with low nutritional value. 

If you only eat foods with low nutritional value, your body will need to rely on the nutrients that are available in the body. If there’s a prolonged lock-down period lasting months, the body will use up its reserve nutrients. Your immune system will become weakened.

Choose your food wisely.

3. Get enough sleep

It’s easy to drift into a new routine when you’re stuck at home. If you start going to bed later and getting up later, you lose sync with your natural Circadian Rhythm, that’s sensitive to light and dark periods. 

Studies have shown, you need at least six hours of sleep a night. If not, you’re more likely to catch a virus, such as a cold. Playing with your sleep cycle can affect your immune system.

“Short sleep was more important than any other factor in predicting subjects’ likelihood of catching cold,” Prather said. “It didn’t matter how old people were, their stress levels, their race, education or income. It didn’t matter if they were a smoker. With all those things taken into account, statistically sleep still carried the day.”

Aric Prather, PhD

4. Get Regular moderate exercise

People that exercise moderately on a regular weekly basis report fewer colds. Body fitness has a significant benefit to the immune system. When you workout, the immune cells circulate the body more frequently and are more able to fight bacteria and viruses.

Don’t overdo it. Prolonged intense exercise can have adverse effects on the immune system. Ninety minutes of intense exercise can impede the immune system for up to 72 hours— that’ why professional athletes stagger their exercise periods. Recovery is essential, as well as matching your exercise rate to your level of fitness. If you’re in doubt, consult with a professional trainer.

5. Take nutrient supplements

Make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. Good quality multi-nutrient supplements should include the recommended vitamins and minerals you need for your daily intake.  Century, Wellman, and California Gold, are reliable supplement brands, to name a few.

The essential supplements related to fighting upper respiratory infections and colds are as follows:

Vitamin D 

Studies have shown that people that have sufficient levels of Vitamin D have a better chance of fighting a virus-related illness and a lower risk of upper respiratory infection. The human body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight for 10-30 minutes a day.That’s all good if you’re living in a country with regular sunlight during the Spring and Summer, and you’re not closed indoors during a lock-down. Make sure you’re taking the recommended daily amount of Vitamin D supplements.


Vitamin D – Recommended Daily Intake – US Department of Health
0–12 Months, male and female (with Adequate Intake): 400 IU (10 mcg)
1-70 Years Male and Female (Including pregnancy and lactation): 600 IU (15 mcg)
>70 Years, Male and Female: 800 IU (20 mcg)

Vitamin C

Major Studies have shown that Vitamin C can decrease the severity and duration of a cold. It is common for athletes or people that have regular, intense workouts to have depleted levels of Vitamin C. Studies have also shown that Vitamin C may is likely to have an antiviral effect and is why vitamin C has attracted interest as a possible treatment in treating the effects of COVID-19. However, make no mistake, it is not a substitute for a working vaccine.

Vitamin C does not decrease the frequency of colds in the general population, but it has halved the frequency of colds in people under heavy short-term physical stress. There is no effect of taking vitamin C in doses up to 8 grams per day after a cold has already begun.

Wikipedia

Vitamin C – Recommended Daily Intake – US Department of Health
 * If you smoke, add 35 mg to these recommended values
Birth to 6 months: 40 mg
Infants 7–12 months: 50 mg
Children 1–3 years: 15 mg
Children 4–8 years: 25 mg
Children 9–13 years: 45 mg
Teens 14–18 years (boys): 75 mg
Teens 14–18 years (girls): 65 mg
Adults (men): 90 mg
Adults (women): 75 mg
Pregnant teens: 80 mg
Pregnant women: 85 mg
Breastfeeding teens: 115 mg
Breastfeeding women: 120 mg

Zinc

Studies have shown that Zinc reduces the risk of pneumonia and colds, especially in the elderly and children. Zink is more active on the onset of a cold, within the first 24 hours. If you take the recommended levels of Zinc as a daily supplement, you will automatically be covered. The recommended amount of Zinc intake is 20 Mg per day.

Echinacea

Double-blind, random control trials, using echinacea supplements and placebos, have shown that Echinacea reduces the number of repeated colds and reduces the risk of upper respiratory infections. Echinacea has antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects and is good for the immune system in general. Recommended Echinacea dosage:
For Prevention: 2,400 mg per day
For Treatment: 4,000 mg per day

6. Use fresh garlic in your food

Garlic is known to have antiviral properties and strengthens the immune system. Studies have shown that taking 180 mg of Allicin (the active ingredient in garlic), for twelve weeks, reduces the intensity and duration of the common cold.  

7. Include probiotics in your diet

Studies comparing people that took probiotics to those that took a placebo have shown a significant effect on reducing the number of days of illness. Lactobacillus (found in both dairy and plant-based products) and Bifidobacterium genre, are probiotics, you can add to your diet.

Natural Probiotics are found in Sauerkraut Kimchi, Miso, and Natto (Fermented Soy Beans). You can also take them in supplement form.


8. Eat more flavonoids

Flavonoids are the most common group of polyphenols found in plants and responsible for so many of the vibrant colours present in fruits, vegetables. Meta-Analysis Reports have shown Flavonoids reduce upper respiratory tract infections by one third and decrease the sick-day count by 40%. A recommended dose of 1,000 to 5000mg per day of Flavonoids can help prevent upper respiratory tract infection.
Flavonoids can be found in tea, citrus fruit and juices, berries, apples, and legumes. One 250mg glass of green tea contains the recommended amount of Flavonoids. 

9. Reduce alcohol intake

Another thing you can do to avoid weakening the immune system and reduce inflammation is to reduce your intake of alcohol. Even better, avoid alcohol altogether.

Dr David Nutt is an English neuropsychopharmacologist specializing in the research of drugs that affect brain inflammation. 

” Alcohol is responsible for chronic inflammation, a significant factor in many long-term health conditions, from diabetes to cancer and liver cirrhosis—Alcohol can turn on your immune cells, and inflammation is the immune system’s response. Without a doubt, alcohol is the most destructive drug to the brain”.

David Nutt, Director of the Neuropsychopharmacology, Brain Sciences, Imperial College, London.

In a recent report in Drug Science, Policy and Law
Alcohol hangover: The health impact with a historic and Chinese perspective Prof David Nutt*, Yuan-Cai Liu*, Mo-Si Chen,

“It is well known that heavy alcohol consumption, like that experienced by alcoholics, can cause inflammation in the brain and can influence the immune system”.

Alfonso-Loeches and Guerri, 2011.

In these difficult times, many are isolated and feeling down due to social distancing. It’s easy to turn to the bottle, to drown sorrows, and numb the effects of anxiety. If you can’t avoid drinking alcohol, at least reduce the amount to recommended daily intake.

“It is recommended to limit alcohol intake. Intake should not exceed 10g per day for women and 20g per day for men.”

European Union recommendations for alcohol.

10. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Regular meditation strengthens the immune system, helping to fight infection. Daily meditation practice relieves stress, improves attention, increases the immune system, and even reduces pain. 

“More than 300 empirical studies have shown a relationship between psychological stress and parameters of the immune system in human participants”.

Meta-analysis, NCBI

One study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows psychological stress increases in respiratory infection and clinical colds.  

“The rates of both respiratory infection (P<0.005) and clinical colds (P<0.02) increased in a dose-response manner with increases in the degree of psychological stress”.

New England Journal of Medicine

If we listen to the advice of the health authorities, most people will get through this pandemic. Maintain social distancing and do your best to strengthen your immune system. For those that fall prey to this predator, our thoughts and prayers go with you.