The Diet and Lifestyle Message of the Pandemic

The Pandemic speaks to us… It tells us stories of how fragile our lives can be and how easily we can lose the battle if we are not well equipped. The virus – an interface molecule between the alive and the dead, can wreak havoc on millions across the world. India is reeling under its impact in the next wave that hits us.

There are always lessons to be learnt from any challenge and so there are hidden in this pandemic too.

Let us specially look at the lessons for us from the point of view of Diet, lifestyle and health. Hippocrates understood it perfectly when he said – Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food!

The World Health Organisation has suggested three global strategies to be prepared for the COVID 19 and to overcome COVID pandemic:

Using equitable tools for health

Using sustainable practices to fight the disease

Being prepared for the next wave and the next pandemic

Bringing this to a micro level- at the level of the individual, the family and the community, there seems to be only one answer to it – GOOD NUTRITION, GOOD DIETARY AND LIFESTYLE PRACTICES.

This is what we come back to again and again. Such a simple concept, immensely doable, yet something we don’t give enough thought and attention to.

Before you read this post, to help you absorb this information better, let us clarify what our mindset regards nutrition and lifestyle in this pandemic must be. 

Let us affirm:

Every daily health choice of mine moves towards nourishing my immune system so that if exposed to the COVID 19 virus, it can be combated to run a mild course in my body.

I am a Pandemic Warrior and I will keep my immune system ready for battle.

I am prepared.

So let us examine Five  key concepts in this article:

Who is more susceptible to COVID 10 infection?

Of course, the one who is exposed to it. So, staying safe is the first priority!

But among the people who are exposed to the virus- could there be certain characteristics that put them at higher risk.

Yes! Those with other conditions like – Overweight and obesity, Diabetes specially that which is not controlled, high blood pressure and heart diseases. They can contract the infection faster as such conditions already leave the immune system weakened and more vulnerable to the virus. Thus, this is the group that must especially take care to see that their parameters are controlled and their risk minimised.

Another such vulnerable group is the elderly, who may have already weakened immune systems.

Anyone who falls under such conditions need to immediately take care of their dietary regimen and take control of their health.

Their family members should ensure adequate care in their nutritional programme and dietary intake as well as lifestyle habits. A dietary consult will do wonders to get a specific programme in place. Alternatively, such individuals or family members can learn the needful from educational programmes organised. Because it is only good health that can save us and good lifestyle practices that can protect us. 

What to eat and practice for bettering immunity in the Pandemic?

Let our choices be those which can protect and uphold our immune system.  Our immune systems are powerful. The food we eat can actually modify genes and lead to immune cell activation. The food we eat can help our intestinal immune system to remain sharp and uniformed soldiers ready for any invasion.

The infection, if it comes, can take a turn for the mild or for the worse. What drives it in either direction? Just how well equipped our body is to fight it. If we examine what we must eat and what we must not, it can be easily categorised into two parts:

What we must be generous with (Specially the disease fighting benefits of the powerful phyto chemicals ie. Plant chemicals):


Eat fresh and dried fruits with at least 3 -4 servings.

Don’t juice the fruit, eat it.

Don’t discard the edible peels of fruits. Wash it well and eat it.

Eat fruits of varied colours and those that are seasonal.

Eat edible peels of fruits as its loaded with nutrients and fiber.

Children and adolescents must be offered fruits too. Their diets must include them.

Don’t have all fruits at one time. Have it as snacks in the day

 Vegetables – Use varied coloured seasonal vegetables at least 4 servings per day 

 Include vegetables in all meals

 Add it in roti dough, rice, sandwiches, rolls.

  Have salads and soups.

 Have whole wheat rotis, red rice, out brilliant nourishing millets – let lunch be Jowar, bajra, ragi rotis

 Ensure a pulse (dal) in every main meal

 Pulses can be swapped for poultry, egg or fish BUT avoid processed, high salted meats.

 Munch on nuts – as snacks and add some to every meal.

  Use immune regulating foods and spices like fresh home-made curds, turmeric, ginger, good quality honey, Flaxseeds, walnuts and fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel garlic, flavourings of mixed garam masalas (cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, black cardamom and carom seeds – ajwain).

 Hydrate well – Ensure 8 – 10 glasses of water per day

 Cook together as a family, eat hearty, earthy nourishing meals prepared with love.

 What we must be stingy with 

Limit salt and sugar. These need to be moderated first. Avoid excess of papads and pickles, processed and packed foods, bakery items.

Fried items and high fat foods

Sugar, sweets, commercially prepared desserts, cookies and sugar laden carbonated drinks

Eating from out. Old, stale, unhygienically prepared, unhealthy and non-nourishing food is to be kept to a minimum.

Healthy Living Practices:

Sleep for 8 hours per day.

Exercise daily at home – some Callisthenics, some yoga, some body weight using exercises – squats, planks, push ups, some flexibility exercises.

Laugh, be joyous, meditate, relax, be creative – Of course all of this is related to health – the happier and the more relaxed we are, the more powerful our immune system.

Could nutrient deficiencies increase risk of COVID 19 infection?

Could nutrient deficiencies affect our immune system and thus increase our susceptibility to the virus? Yes. It can. Let us examine some specific nutrients of concern and what we can do to circumvent their deficiencies…

Vitamin D: Ensure some exposure to sunlight daily.

In the elderly and those who have not exposed themselves to sunlight for a long time,     Vitamin D can be tested and if found  deficient, it can be supplemented. A vitamin D replete system can offer immune protection.

Zinc: Required to boost immune cell number and function. Consume Nuts, whole grain cereal, organ meats, vegetables and fruits.

Vitamin C : Fresh fruits and vegetables – Let the goodness of citrus, all coloured capsicums, guava, amla, be included in the menu.

Make unsweetened lime juice the beverage of choice especially in summer.

Include sprouts in the menu – it contains vitamin C

Squeeze lime juice over dishes -for both a delicious flavour and a dash of immune protective vitamin C.

Include the fresh salads and freshly cut fruits.

What should be the diet if one gets infected?

The infection can take many turns.

In case of mild infection and home quarantine_continue taking a healthful diet as mentioned above.

Fresh nourishing food

Plenty of fluids

Steam inhalation thrice a day

lime water, salads and home cooked healthy meals

Multivitamin, multimineral, Vitamin C and Zinc supplement in concurrence with your Dietitian or physician

Check Vitamin D levels and correct it if required

In case of other issues present like diabetes or hypertension, its management is paramount with a physician and a dietitian consult

It is to be ensured that in case of home quarantine, unhealthful choices of cafeteria food, with high fat and sugars must be avoided

In case of hospitalisation – A dietetic consult is a must

Key points to be noted post COVID 19 infection:

There would have been muscle loss and some nutritional deficiencies during the course of the infection. It would be of lesser degree in case of mild infection and greater deficits would be observed in severe infections.

Diet and lifestyle therapies are required post infection for an extended period of time. 

Post infection too, the additional concerns of uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension needs to be taken care of.

Healthy food choices must continue with the emphasis on mindful healthy choices to reduce issues of long term complications from COVID-19.

In conclusion, we have but one important weapon to protect us from COVID 19 – Our IMMUNE SYSTEM. It is high time we understood that empowering the immune system to fight this crucial battle is much better than battling away in a hospital bed with multiple medications and other medical support systems later. 

So dear Reader, let us each be a Pandemic Warrior for ourselves and our families and by choosing health and taking care of our immune system, let us do our bit to reduce the load on our medical infrastructure as well as preserve our family’s health.

Write in to us with your queries to help you better.


Butler MJ, Barrientos RM. The impact of nutrition on COVID-19 susceptibility and long-term consequences. Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Jul;87:53-54. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2020.04.040. Epub 2020 Apr 18. PMID: 32311498; PMCID: PMC7165103.

Moscatelli, F., Sessa, F., Valenzano, A., Polito, R., Monda, V., Cibelli, G., Villano, I., Pisanelli, D., Perrella, M., Daniele, A., Monda, M., Messina, G., & Messina, A. (2021). COVID-19: Role of Nutrition and Supplementation. Nutrients, 13(3), 976.

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