Pandemic Proof Your Diet

Shrutika Mallya

Feb 28, 2021

Ever noticed how new viruses are making their way into our lives over the past few decades? Be it HIV, Ebola, SARS, or Coivd-19, they all originated from animals. Most of these zoonotic diseases (transmitting from animals to humans) have a high fatality rate, some even upwards of 50%, making them a severe health concern for all.

Eating infected animal produce tops the list for the transmission of these pathogens into the human world. What we eat and, more importantly, how we eat is the primary cause of these animal-to-human transmitting infections. Making informed decisions with regards to our food choices is imperative for our health.

Switching to a plant-based diet

A plant-based diet involves switching to food sources originating from the plants. It is not to be confused with a vegan or vegetarian diet. You can still consume meat and dairy - only as an appetizer rather than the main course.

A plant-based diet includes food sources such as whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seed oils. According to nutrition experts: you can still meet your Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of all the major and minor nutrients with a plant-based diet.

Switching your diet to plant origin has a lot of health benefits. This diet supports longevity. Research proves a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases like diabetes, depression, and various types of cancer - including colon and prostate.

Coincidently, these chronic diseases are comorbid factors increasing our susceptibility to deadly viruses such as SARS and Covid-19. A change in diet may help improve your vitality for tomorrow.

Can a plant-based diet sufficiently meet our protein requirements?

While plant diet is a healthier option, the adequacy of nutrients, especially protein, has always been a question.

Unlike Western countries, the plant-based diet in the Mediterranean and the Eastern countries involve complimenting the diet with legumes. Legumes are a rich source of proteins.

Others such as soybeans and quinoa contain all the essential amino acids - protein components - vital to human requirements. Such plant sources are complete proteins and require fewer calories to digest compared to animal sources.

Pescatarian diet - a good option?

A pescatarian diet is a combination of plant-based food sources and fish and other seafood.

Fish are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, thiamine, and iodine. A diet rich in fish has proven health benefits for heart diseases and metabolic disorders. American Heart Association recommends a couple of servings of fish every week to improve cardiac health.

As fish can also carry zoonotic pathogens, consuming fresh fish and avoiding uncooked/undercooked fish can help prevent infections.

Consuming meat - the right way

Although a plant-based diet is superior to poultry and meat, they do have their merits. Depending on its origin, meat can be white or red. Lean meat is rich in protein and vital nutrients such as vitamins - A, D, B12, niacin, thiamine, and minerals.

The emergence of pandemic and bird flu has raised concerns in consuming meat, especially chicken and eggs. Is that reason to avoid meat?

The increased consumer demand over the past decades has led to the industrialization in poultry farming. It has caused crowding of these chickens in the farms, allowing the spread of various viral and bacterial infections.

Although we may not necessarily have control over that aspect, we can take measures to prevent infection from spreading to us through the food chain. According to the World Health Organization, we should cook poultry at a temperature of 70 degrees or above to ensure no virus can mistakenly enter our food.

Infected poultry can lay eggs with virus present on the surface or inside. Avoid eating raw eggs and properly cook the eggs at a temperature over 70 degrees to deactivate the viruses.

The method of cooking meat and poultry can also impact our health. Deep frying and grilling our meat can increase the toxic by-products linked to a higher risk of chronic diseases and cancers. Slow cooking, pressure cooking, and baking are healthier options. We can destroy the pathogens while also maintaining the nutritional content of our meat.

Take away!

There is no risk of flu with vegetables irrespective of how much we crowd them together. However, it may not be to everyone's taste (pun intended!).

Research is afoot to produce animal-free meat products, with some success too. Like non-dairy milk substitutes - soy and almond milk -several meat producers are now introducing plant-based meat alternatives. Maybe that is the future of our food industry. After all, consumers drive the producer markets.

Awareness regarding the food we eat can be a game-changer in preventing future pandemics. If your dietary choices could improve global health, what choice would you be making?

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