You might think that throwing yourself off Niagara Falls in a barrel isn’t an obvious way to celebrate your 63rd birthday, but that’s exactly what Annie Edson Taylor did in 1901. Rather than just for the fun of it, the death-defying stunt was supposed to be a money-spinner, and she was set for speaking tours and photos across North America. That was before her manager stepped in. Seeing the opportunity for some quick cash, he stole her barrel to use for paid photos himself. While our lives are being turned upside down by coronavirus, one thing remains the same; just like barrel stealing managers, bad people will always try to make a quick buck.
Trying to profit on peoples desperation is about as despicable as it gets, but the fitness industry is rife with it. Since the spread of COVID-19, I’ve seen countless blogs, videos, and social media posts claiming that a specific diet, or supplement, will prevent, or cure, coronavirus by boosting your immune system. But are any of these claims true? It turns out that eating a certain way can’t prevent infection, and no supplement will supercharge your immunity. While you can still optimise your nutrition to support your health at this time, you can’t do anything more than that. Here’s why there is no anti-coronavirus diet.
As humans, we like to take sides. It feels good to have something to believe in. It feels even better to tell someone you think is struggling that you have the answer to their problems. Even if the answer is oversimplified or, often, flat out wrong. This is how diet tribalism works. It hooks you, makes you into a true believer, and tricks you into doing the marketing for it.
As per usual, the majority of the diet hype comes from the polar opposite, high-carb/no animal product, vegans, and the, low-carb/meat-heavy, ketogenic dieters. Sometimes not eating at all is touted as the answer to staying healthy.
Whatever the reasoning, the offer of a diet program, ebook, or VIP nutrition group is right behind the message. Even when the topic is something as serious as a life-threatening viral infection, money is still the motivator.
Sometimes the advice seems more legit. If it’s from a medical doctor or some kind of PhD using sciencey language, then it’s harder to tell if it’s BS or not, but despite the confident tone used, immunity is still not something we can supercharge through diet.
While vitamin C and zinc can reduce the length of time you might have a cold for, they don’t prevent you getting it, and there is zero evidence that they’ll do anything at all for COVID-19. In a nutshell, if you sleep well, eat a decent diet, and do a bit of exercise, your immune system is already operating optimally.
In a recent publication, the British Dietetics Association wrote:
Simply put, you cannot “boost” your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you catching COVID-19/Coronavirus. Good hygiene practice remains the best means of avoiding infection.
Despite this, the message on social media is still to avoid certain “bad” foods, eat a special diet, and take totally unproven supplements to stave off, or cure, infection.
My goal for this blog isn’t to make you feel like there’s nothing you can do, it’s to help you spot fact from fiction in a time of increased health stress and anxiety before you spend your money on supplements or make your life a misery following a diet that you hate.
As a nutritionist, we can be biased into thinking that diet is the answer to everything, but in this case, hygiene and sleep come first on the list of things to concentrate on. With all the hoarding going on, good food might hard to find in the shops right now, but eating a less than ideal diet for a month or so isn’t going to ruin your immune system. Washing your hands for 20 seconds as often as possible, not touching your face, and distancing your self from people should be your main focus.
Fasting, giving up sugar, not eating meat, or taking a supplement stack won’t do anything to boost your immune system. If you eat your veggies, get some sleep, and your hygiene is on point, you are doing all you can to avoid coronavirus.