Coronavirus and diet

I wrote a tweet recently comparing the extraordinary global response to Covid-19 and the total lack of response to the millions of people who die each year because of metabolic syndrome. Several people replied that you cannot compare the two because one is infectious and the other is not. They suggested that we cannot do anything about the virus but we can all chose to improve our metabolic health. I wasn’t comparing the diseases; I was comparing the response to them. Metabolic disease will kill more people this and every year than Coronavirus but the authorities make no bold efforts to examine the reasons for those deaths.

There are a few important things to add to this debate.

  1. The majority of people who die from this virus are elderly and already have metabolic diseases. One of the most common of these is type 2 diabetes, which is avoidable with the correct diet. Metabolic disruption makes people more vulnerable to the virus.
  2. The best way for any of us to avoid succumbing to the virus, or fight it off without needing hospitalisation, is to have a first-class immune system. Several factors affect our immunity and the most important is diet.
  3. The virus causes death by attacking the lungs and causing respiratory failure.

Vitamin D: This study finds evidence that higher levels of vitamin D help to reduce respiratory tract infections. – Vitamin D for prevention of respiratory tract infections

Vitamin A: This study shows the importance of adequate levels of vitamin A for correct lung function. Vitamin A Deficiency and the Lung

Both of these vitamins are fat soluble and likely to be low in people on a low-fat diet. They can also be low in people on a vegetarian or vegan diet because the best sources are in animal-based foods:

Vitamin A

Beef and lamb’s liver, salmon, tuna, mackerel, butter, cheese, eggs

Vitamin D

Salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, eggs, lard and bacon fat.

Of course, the best source of vitamin D is from sunlight on our skin (without sunscreen). However, during a British winter, it is not possible to get enough sunshine to create adequate amounts of this essential substance and we have to get it from our diet. It is worth remembering that it is a cholesterol molecule that is converted to vitamin D in the skin. Eating a lot of plant sterols (or taking statins) will reduce levels of cholesterol and potentially lower our immunity.

Diabetes I mentioned earlier that many of the fatalities are among people with diabetes. This study shows why that may not be a coincidence. Glycolytic control: A mechanism to regulate influenza viral infection

This is a quote from the Abstract of the study: “As new influenza virus strains emerge, finding new mechanisms to control infection is imperative. In this study, we found that we could control influenza infection of mammalian cells by altering the level of glucose given to cells. Higher glucose concentrations induced a dose-specific increase in influenza infection.”

A low-carbohydrate diet, as recommended on this site, has many more benefits than just weight loss and reversal of type 2 diabetes.

Minerals Some trace minerals have a profound effect on the integrity of our immune systems. Three of the most important ones are thought to be Zinc, Iodine and Selenium. They only occur in decent amounts in whole, unprocessed foods. Processing greatly reduces the mineral content.

Zinc is quite well-known for fighting the common cold. It is found in meat, shellfish, lentils and beans, nuts, dairy and eggs.

Iodine is essential for thyroid function and the thyroid is important for immunity. There are few good sources of iodine but the best include cod, tuna, shrimp, eggs, dairy, iodised salt and seaweed!

Selenium is an antioxidant that we require in trace amounts. Too little causes problems but so does too much. It is better to eat healthy foods than take supplements that may provide too much. The best sources of selenium are brazil nuts, pork, beef, chicken, cottage cheese, eggs, mushrooms and spinach.

Good metabolic health, weight, blood sugar and an excellent immune system all come from eating the diet we evolved to eat: a low-carbohydrate diet of mainly animal-sourced protein and fat. What we eat can definitely improve our chances of fighting off the worst effects of Coronavirus. Why is the Chief Medical Officer not telling us this?

This is nuts

The Times newspaper ran a story today (6th March 2020) which perfectly exemplifies why we should be very careful about getting our scientific knowledge and dietary advice from newspaper articles. The headline was Serving of nuts rather than meat could lower heart and cancer risk. The article claimed that “Replacing one daily serving of any red meat for nuts — without increasing the number of calories a person ate — was linked to a 17 per cent lower risk of dying of a heart attack.”

This is a very powerful message; people are likely to be swayed by the idea that they can reduce their risk of heart attack by nearly a fifth simply by swapping meat for nuts. Of course, If you read on beyond the headline and opening paragraphs the article correctly states, “Their study was purely observational. That meant that it could not prove that swapping meat for nuts, wholegrains and legumes caused people to have better health.”

1. Observational studies on diets are notoriously unreliable. All of the data comes from Food Frequency Questionnaires which participants have to complete over long periods of time. Can you remember precisely what you ate a week last Thursday? No, neither can I. Inevitably, some of the data is a guess which invalidates the whole process as a scientific study.

2. Studies like this have to be interpreted by the researchers and adjustments made for confounding factors. This research was done by Harvard Chan School of Public Health. A cursory examination of their publications shows a clear and significant bias towards plant based foods. 

3. It is well known that people who eat more nuts and vegetables are generally more health conscious. They tend to be non-smokers, drink moderately, take exercise and sleep well. Among the ‘meat-eaters’ in these studies are people who eat fast food most of the time. They consume meat but eat it with a bread bun, fries cooked in inflammatory seed oils and washed down with a large sugar-laden ‘Coke’. They also do not look after themselves in other ways. We are not comparing like with like.

4. Heart disease has many contributory factors including: high blood pressure; systemic inflammation; high blood sugar/high insulin levels/type 2 diabetes (most diabetics eventually die from heart disease); toxins from cigarette smoke and air pollution; high levels of the stress hormone cortisol; high levels of homocysteine (due to a lack of B vitamins); low levels of vitamin D; drug abuse (especially cocaine); high levels of the clotting agent fibrinogen; and bacterial infection. None of these things are made worse by eating red meat. In fact, meat is a very good source of B vitamins which are protective against heart disease. There is simply no mechanism by which the consumption of meat can induce heart attack.

5. Our species has been eating red meat for millions of years. If it was as bad for as Harvard Chan continually tell us we would have died out long ago. Also, our skeletal muscle is the same substance as red meat. An average adult male is 42% red meat and an adult woman is typically 36% red meat. It is completely illogical to imagine that eating something which makes up more than a third of our bodies could do us any harm.

Why ‘Veganuary’ is a bad idea

As the New Year begins, many people seek to lose weight and improve their health through a change in their diet. Some will be tempted to try a plant-based diet for a whole month, by signing up to ‘Veganuary’. Nutritional science deems this to be a bad idea because a vegan diet is nutritionally deficient.

Eating nothing but plants is fine for herbivores but humans are not herbivores. We require the nutrients found only in animal foods if we are to be healthy.
• Humans have been eating meat for hundreds of thousands of years. We evolved into the dominant species on the planet because of our regular consumption of meat, which is the most nutrient-dense and easily-absorbed food available to us.
• Veganism is a modern, fad diet. In the Western world, it began with a religious group known as the Church of the Seventh Day Adventists. Recent polls have shown that 80% of vegans eventually go back to eating meat because their health has declined.
• Vitamin B12 does not exist in plants; we can only obtain it from eating animals or by taking supplements in tablet form. This vitamin is essential for the formation of red blood cells and the integrity of our brain and nerve fibres. It is vital for children, whose brains are growing, to consume plenty of milk, eggs and meat to get enough B12.
• 12% of the structure of a human brain consists of an omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA. It is necessary for conscious thought, DHA is only found in animal foods. This may well explain why vegans suffer from depression at a higher rate than omnivores.

The Veganuary website boasts of its connection with many food producers, who continue to add to their range of vegan options. Food manufacturers are very happy to support this because they make far more profit out of the cheap ingredients in a ‘meatless burger’ than they do when they use real meat. We can all expect to see more ‘vegan’ options appearing in supermarkets. This does not happen because they are more healthy; it happens because they are more profitable.

The Veganuary website also talks about the avoidance of animal cruelty, without telling you that the vast majority of UK farmers take great care of their livestock. It also fails to mention all the small wild creatures, like field mice, that are killed when a plant crop is harvested by large machines, nor all the thousands of bees, birds and insects that die from the spraying of toxic pesticides. Because of the way plant food is grown, more animals die to feed a vegan than die to feed a carnivore.

Most people do not stop to think where vegetables come from in the middle of January. Many of them come from the vast expanse of plastic polytunnels that cover 160 square miles of the Spanish coast near Almeira. This is not eco-friendly food production Read more about it here

If you want to improve your health in January, cut back on carbohydrates and replace them with healthy fats; avoid ultra-processed foods; cook your own real food that comes from a farmer or fisherman not a factory.