How to Combat COVID with a Healthy Diet When There’s a Food Shortage - Salt 106.5

How to Combat COVID with a Healthy Diet When There’s a Food Shortage

The food shortage may have some turning to supplements and vitamins to get their daily intake, but one dietician said there’s a better way.

By Amy ChengMonday 8 Aug 2022Health and WellbeingReading Time: 5 minutes

A healthy diet may help keep COVID away and experts are now questioning the link between our daily intake of fruits and vegetables and our susceptibility to catching COVID.

Around 80 per cent of our immune cells originate in the gut, according to dietitian Skye Swaney.

“By supporting our gut health, we can actually really support our immune system as well,” she told Hope 103.2

“What vegetables do is they provide fibre, in particular, that feeds our good gut bacteria so that can, in turn, help support our immune system.”

If we’re not getting an adequate amount of vegetables, we will not get the necessary vitamins and minerals to support our immune system, she said.

Last month, The Conversation reported on the health risk of low iron levels and how the pandemic is exacerbating this problem.

“The ongoing COVID epidemic has also introduced multiple risk factors for iron deficiency,” – The Conversation reported

“The ongoing COVID epidemic has also introduced multiple risk factors for iron deficiency,” the article said.

“We know severe infection with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID) may change the way some people metabolise iron, leading to lower iron levels up to two months after infection.”

Also last month, medical journal The Lancet looked at different recovery paths for COVID-19 and how they affect human health and food affordability.

“The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is most visible in low-income countries, where a reduction in growth projections makes a greater difference to the affordability of a basic diet,” the research paper said.

“A change in dietary preferences is most impactful in reducing mortality and the burden of disease when income levels are high.

“At lower income, a transition towards lower meat consumption reduces undernourishment and diet-related mortality.”

Around 80 per cent of our immune cells originate in the gut, according to dietitian Skye Swaney.

Good vs bad bacteria

There is a huge amount of bacteria living in our guts and a lot of that bacteria is good, helping our bodies to function optimally, however, some of that bacteria is also bad, Ms Swaney said.

“We want that balance to be weighted towards the good bacteria; if we’ve got too much bad bacteria, then that can contribute to inflammation within the body that then puts us at a greater risk of chronic diseases and adversely affect our immune function.”

Bad bacteria can come from a variety of sources and environmental factors, she said.

“In terms of our diet, eating what we would normally call junk foods – foods that are high in added sugar, saturated fat, those sorts of foods that we typically are told to avoid – can encourage that bad bacteria.”

“What vegetables do is they provide fibre in particular that feeds our good gut bacteria, so that can in turn help support our immune system,” – Skye Swaney, dietitian

Global food crisis

However, the current global food crisis, a result of the pandemic, conflict, poverty and economic shocks, may make certain fruits and vegetables difficult to come by.

This shortage may have some turning to supplements and vitamins to get their daily intake, however, Ms Swaney said there’s a better way.

“Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season is one of the easy ways and you can usually work that out by what’s cheap at the supermarket,” she said.

“Avoid the things that are not in season and therefore more expensive, or there’s a shortage of them, and just find other vegetables to cook with.

“We do want to have as much variety as possible in our diet when it comes to plant foods, but if we follow the seasons, then we’ll naturally get that variety.”

“Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season is one of the easy ways [to get your daily vitamin intake] and you can usually work that out by what’s cheap at the supermarket,” – Skye Swaney, dietitian

Ms Swaney said people shouldn’t shy away from buying frozen or tinned produce.

“Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious, sometimes even more so, and usually a lot more affordable,” she said.

“The price of frozen veg hasn’t changed significantly, despite the change in the cost of fresh vegetables.”

Canned vegetables is another good option, they are “perfectly nutritious” and more affordable, however, some canned vegetables may have added salt that buyers need to be wary of.

Ms Swaney suggested buyers read the labels of cans to determine which brands have the lowest salt content.

“On balance, it would be better to have the vegetable with a bit of salt then to not have it at all, so you just have to put that into context.”

“We do want to have as much variety as possible in our diet when it comes to plant foods, but if we follow the seasons, then we’ll naturally get that variety,” – Skye Swaney, dietitian

Fussy little eaters

A recent survey commissioned by children’s meal delivery service Go! Kidz found that 80 per cent of Australian children aren’t getting their daily vegetable intake.

Ms Swaney, who helps create and approve recipes for Go! Kidz, believed this is due to the difficulty in getting children to eat vegetables.

“Often kids don’t like the taste of vegetables when they first experience them, it can take multiple exposures before kids start to like vegetables,” she said.

“That can mean that parents are less inclined to offer vegetables because they don’t want them to be wasted.”

However, as a dietitian and mum to two children – one not being a “big veggie fan” – Ms Swaney, has some helpful tips for parents.

Hiding vegetables in children’s food is not recommended because it can lead to trust issues, according to dietitian Skye Swaney.

Introducing vegetables early in a child’s life can help them accept them later on, she said.

“Babies are born with a natural preference for sweet foods and they tend to dislike bitter tastes because that’s a natural protective mechanism, so that they won’t go and eat poisonous fruits.”

For older children, Ms Swaney advised against hiding vegetables in food.

“That can then lead to issues of trust around food and can make them fussier… (it will make them question) what other dishes you have stuffed vegetables into, so it can actually have the opposite effect,” she said.

“Do it in a way that the child knows that they’re there or can see that they’re there, we don’t have to go out of our way to tell the child that they’re there, but if they ask then we can tell them.”

Pressuring children to eat vegetables, bribing them or coercing them is also a no-no, she said.

“Yes, you might get them to eat the piece of broccoli at that particular meal, but it doesn’t help them to accept it in the long term,” Ms Swaney said.

“Ultimately, what we want is for them to learn to enjoy those foods on their own terms.”

Feature image: Photo by Tangerine Newt on Unsplash