What role does a balanced diet play in infections such as coronavirus? Prof. Dr. Diana Rubin heads the Vivantes Center for Nutritional Medicine with locations at Vivantes Humboldt Hospital and Vivantes Spandau Hospital. There, she advises patients with various clinical presentations, for example cancer, intestinal diseases or before and after surgical interventions. Because scientific findings show: For example, malnourished people can have problems with wound healing and recovery.
Can a healthy diet help prevent from becoming infected with the coronavirus easier?
Prof. Dr. Diana Rubin:As with so many questions relating to coronavirus infections, we do not currently have any scientific data on this. However, as dietologists, we assume that a healthy and balanced diet generally protects against infectious diseases. This is because we know that people who are deficient and underweight, as is often the case with chronic diseases, are more susceptible to them.
Do people with malnutrition also have to expect a more severe course of the disease?
Chronic illness appears to be a risk factor for infection. As with other severe infectious diseases, COVID-19 patients show a severe loss of appetite and often eat very little for several days. In addition, there is a loss of smell and taste characteristic of this disease. For those with a normal diet or who, like two-thirds of Germans, are overweight, this is usually easy to cope with. But old and often malnourished people quickly lose substance, which makes recovery more difficult.
What foods foster recovery?
We do not recommend any specific foods, but offer individualized consultations for our patients. The focus is on adequate protein intake, in the hospital via fortified food or drinkable food. At home, weakened elderly people can turn to dairy products, egg, fish and meat – ideally, combined with exercise to rebuild lost muscle mass.
Which foods strengthen the immune system?
It cannot be proven through scientific literature that there are specific foods that strengthen the immune system. Many vitamins and minerals are involved in the regulation of the immune system, so a balanced diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables is the key to success. Ultimately, a whole-food diet according to the criteria of the German Nutrition Society is advisable. It contains all micro- and macronutrients in the amount the body needs. Food supplements are not necessary for normal people.
Some consumers wonder whether the virus is transmitted via meat or other foods, for example – a justified concern?
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment estimates the risk of transmission of the virus via food to be low. In addition, it is heat-sensitive, so it is killed during cooking or frying.
Many people are currently "hoarding" pasta, canned foods and flour. To what extent should they be consumed?
The above foods can be part of a balanced diet, preferably in the whole grain variety. Nevertheless, fresh foods should also supplement the range of meals. Therefore, fruit and vegetables, dairy products, fish and meat in moderation are also important for a balanced diet. Pasta alone is not a sane diet. If you don't want to go shopping so often at the moment, you can resort to canned, or better yet, frozen vegetables; this way the meal contains more vitamins and minerals. If it is bread that is baked from flour, it is not problematic. Cake or pizza with a lot of sugar, salt and fat, on the other hand, is less recommendable. All in all, because most people are moving less at the moment, for example, because the commute to work is no longer necessary, they should reduce their calorie intake somewhat overall.
Can the pandemic be an opportunity to eat healthier?
Otherwise, when people are on the go a lot, fast food or less-than-optimal cafeteria food is often chosen in a hurry. The current time holds the chance to think about one's own lifestyle and diet. Those who spend more time at home should take the opportunity to cook more themselves instead of buying fast food. It's fun to try out new, healthy recipes and share them with friends or family.
Can these impulses be carried over into working life later on?
Yes, if you choose recipes that are simple, contain healthy components and are easy to take along. A weekly plan can help, for example, to prepare several dishes on the weekend, possibly freeze them and eat them spread out over the week. This can beat some cafeterias.
Many people eat more sweets in the home office than in the office. What are the healthy alternatives?
You should start thinking about this at the beginning of the day and start the day with a proper breakfast. Maybe prepare a pot of tea and some raw vegetables in the morning. That way, a snack is available at your desk and you won't be tempted when cravings hit. But the decision is already made in the supermarket: If you don't have anything sweet at home, you won't eat it. Under no circumstances should you go shopping hungry or at peak times, so that you can make your choice as consciously and relaxed as possible.