A doctor has debunked some of the biggest myths about coronavirus immunity boosting, and revealed which advice you should be following instead.
Leading Harley Street dietitian and King’s College research fellow, Dr Megan Rossi, said the coronavirus pandemic has sent pseudoscience and misinformation ‘through the roof’.
‘Be careful who you take advice from,’ Dr Rossi posted on her Instagram profile.
‘I totally get we’re all looking to help our immune systems. Yet ultimately, there is no one super food, diet or supplement that will make you immune to COVID-19.’
A doctor debunked the biggest myths surrounding ‘boosting your immunuity’ amid outbreak of COVID-19 – including whether you should take supplements (Dr Megan Rossi pictured)
Dr Rossi (pictured) said there is no evidence that Vitamin C supplements will help you to fight coronavirus and instead, you should focus on having a healthy and balanced diet
1. Should you be taking Vitamin C supplements?
While you might have read the claims that dosing up on Vitamin C will help to protect you against coronavirus, Dr Rossi said there is ‘currently NO evidence that Vitamin C will help to prevent or fight off the new coronavirus’.
‘There’s some limited evidence that taking Vitamin C may help to REDUCE the severity and duration of the common cold (by approx 0.5 to 1 per day), but for the general population, Vitamin C supplements didn’t prevent colds,’ she wrote.
In addition, Dr Rossi, who is Australian, highlighted that the common cold and coronavirus are very different:
‘It’s highly misleading, not to mention dangerous, to suggest Vitamin C can fight coronavirus,’ she said.
However, that is not to say that Vitamin C can’t do you some good and it can’t help many bodily functions, including repair, absorption of iron and your immune system.
‘You can get all the Vitamin C your body needs from a wide range of fruit and vegetables including tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peppers, oranges, kiwis, papayas and strawberries,’ Dr Rossi said.
Focus on getting your Vitamin C as much through your diet as much as possible, she added, and concentrate on staying healthy through good quality rest, food and exercise.
The second myth that Dr Rossi (pictured) was keen to bust was the idea that we should be ‘boosting’ our immunity as much as possible in a bid to fight coronavirus
2. Do you need to ‘boost’ your immunity?
The second myth that Dr Rossi was keen to bust was the idea that we should be ‘boosting’ our immunity as much as possible in a bid to fight coronavirus.
‘In search of immune-boosting hacks? Let me challenge that,’ Dr Rossi said.
‘You see, we don’t actually want to boost our immune system (think autoimmune conditions where the body attacks itself), just like we don’t want to suppress it either (think chemotherapy).’
Instead of a boosted immunity or a compromised immunity, what we should be looking for is a ‘balanced immune system’.
You can do this by eating a balanced and varied diet with a wide range of different plant-based foods across all six food groups – fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds – and keeping up your exercise.
She said you don’t want a ‘boosted’ immunity in the same way you don’t want a ‘compromised’ immunity; instead what you should be aiming for is balance
3. Do you need to drink water every 15 minutes?
The third myth that you might have heard recently is that you should be drinking even more water than usual and picking up a glass to have a drink every 15 minutes.
How can you improve your overall gut health?
1. Eat 30 different plant-based foods each week.
2. Move and exercise as much as possible to regulate your bowel movements and increase the diversity of your gut microbes.
3. Avoid unnecessary medications and smoking, as there is growing research to suggest these can impact our gut microbes.
‘Please don’t be fooled by claims around drinking water every 15 minutes,’ Dr Rossi said.
‘That doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to support your immune system.’
She said that even though we do not have the hard evidence yet, it makes sense that being healthy won’t prevent you from getting coronavirus, but it will reduce your risk of becoming severely ill if you do get it.
Aim to get your two to three litres of water each day, and try to get outside for a little bit of fresh air and exercise.
‘If you’re staying home, there are so many great YouTube workouts, free apps and yoga videos available,’ Dr Rossi said.
‘Stay calm and don’t panic – managing stress levels is an important factor in looking after your gut and overall health.’
‘With respect to the general population the body of evidence says the Keto diet is NOT the way to go for a happier, healthier life,’ Dr Rossi (pictured) said
What are the simplest ways to get more fibre?
1. Add flavour and texture to your favourite soup by stirring in cooked barley or legumes.
2. Sprinkle mixed seeds on you breakfast – whether it’s cereal, toast or eggs.
3. Replace a third of the mince in your lasagne with cooked lentils for a twist your gut will love.
4. Keep your skin on both your fruit and vegetables.
5. A small handful of nuts, seeds and dried fruit is a quick way to boost your fibre when you’re in a rush.
6. Make the switch from white to wholegrain and seeded bread.
4. Should you try the keto diet?
The keto diet gets a lot of press for transforming people’s health.
But Dr Rossi said that the keto diet will not make you ‘live longer’ or be healthier.
‘With respect to the general population the body of evidence says it’s NOT the way to go for a happier, healthier life,’ she said.
Instead, you need to focus on getting as much of the six food groups as possible, and ‘flood’ your diet with healthy and balanced foods.
‘Tinned, frozen, dried, it all counts,’ she said.
‘You should also aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night as this will keep you well rested,’ she said.
Cut out and keep: Foods you need
1. Dates A great source of prebiotics — specific kinds of fibres that feed beneficial bacteria in our gut. The potential health benefits of prebiotics are vast, from improving blood-sugar control and appetite regulation to supporting bone and skin health.
2. Flaxseeds Like red wine, flaxseeds are an excellent source of polyphenols, plant chemicals mostly unabsorbed in the upper gut, as humans cannot digest them, so they end up in the lower gut, where bacteria transform them into absorbable compounds, linked with health benefits.
3. Pistachios While it’s a good idea to include any kind of nuts in your diet, pistachios contain the highest level of prebiotics, along with cashews.
4. Damaged fruit We tend to avoid ugly-looking fruit, but they may contain more beneficial plant chemicals as plants produce these under stress to protect themselves. So a perfect piece of fruit could be less good for you.
5. Chai tea Some prebiotics — such as those contained in the chia mix — are water soluble. Chai tea has the bonus of spices, adding further plant foods to your diet.
6. Cauliflower Studies show that the plant chemicals in cauliflower directly support the health of the immune cells that line our intestine. The chemicals help strengthen the gut lining, and as 70 per cent of our immune system is on that digestive tract, that is a major boost to our resilience.
Dr Megan recommends including pomegranates in dishes as they are a great prebiotic food (file image)
7. Turmeric While research reporting its benefits studied the effect of large doses, turmeric is still worthwhile including in your diet in any amount. The active ingredient, curcumin, has anti-inflammatory effects on the gut.
8. Popcorn Don’t be surprised: popcorn is high in plant fibre and contains a different kind to wheat, which tends to dominate our diet.
9. Chia seeds Not only are these tiny seeds thought to help with laxation, but they are also very high in omega 3. And it’s not just your brain that likes omega 3s; our microbes feast on them as well.
10. Pomegranates Their taste makes pomegranates an easy plant addition to many dishes and they are a great prebiotic food.
11. Seaweed Studies show seaweed trains guts to work differently — with regular consumption your bacteria develop the ability to digest it.
12. Dried mango Perfect for sweet cravings, it’s full of helpful prebiotic fibres.
13. Quinoa Quinoa is also a great way to consume protein because it contains fibre — and our gut microbes like fibre and protein to be combined.
14. Lentils All legumes contain an important prebiotic known as galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), but lentils can be added to meat dishes such as bolognese to make it better for the gut. Adding mixed beans to curries is another way to include more legumes.
Dr Megan suggests adding cinnamon to foods to increase plant chemical intake (file image)
15. Rye While wheat also has prebiotics and helpful plant chemicals, I suggest other grains because wheat is the main, sometimes the only, grain people eat.
16. Rosemary Herbs are a good source of polyphenols. Like rosemary (left), basil, thyme and sage are great options. I count herbs and spices as a quarter of a point in my weekly 30, but they are still beneficial.
17. Cinnamon Adding powdered cinnamon to food can increase plant chemical intake.
18. Sauerkraut Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi (fermented vegetables) can introduce helpful bacteria.
19. Extra virgin olive oil Very important, as it has excellent polyphenols (plant chemicals).
20. Wheat berries A textured nutty grain that is chewy, like barley, and comes in ready-cookedmicrowaveable packets.
21. Blueberries One of the richest dietary sources of polyphenols. Don’t go for the biggest berries — polyphenols are in the skin so smaller ones have more.
22. Garlic One of the highest vegetable sources of fructans (a prebiotic). Also concentrated in onions. Pickled garlic has fewer fructans, so is a good option for people with a sensitive gut.
23. Olives Both green and black olives are very high in polyphenols and are an easy way to add another plant food to your week.
Dr Megan says pasta al dente is a good source of resistant starch (file image)
24. Pasta al dente Cooked ‘al dente’ and still firm, pasta is a good source of resistant starch, a fibre gut bacteria love.
25. Ginger Studies show this soothes the digestive tract and is also very high in polyphenols.
26. Cocoa Very high in flavanols (another polyphenol) and trials show it has good heart and brain benefits. Many of dark chocolate’s benefits are due to digestion by good bacteria. The raw version, cacao, has more flavanols, but the processed version is a good start.
27. Mushrooms I choose those sold by supermarkets that are exposed to UV light to increase their vitamin D content. Or leave button mushrooms on a window sill to achieve the same effect. Maximising vitamin D intake is linked to better gut health.
28. Asparagus A great source of prebiotics and fibre. Research suggests asparagus promotes good bacteria in the gut and is also said to have anti-inflammatory benefits.
29. Walnuts A study found a handful a day for three weeks increased the microbes that produce a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate, which helps nourish the gut lining. Walnuts were also linked with a decrease in compounds linked to colon cancer.
30. Cumin This spice has plant bioactives linked to improved digestion and immunity. Curry powder contains cumin.