In the first DGA released during a global pandemic, you’d think COVID-19 was getting some airtime. Unfortunately it only got one sentence. I know most of us are ready to see coronavirus in our rear-view mirrors, but it’s not a story (yet).
The past 10 months have shown us real-time scientific discoveries linking preventable nutritional issues (e.g., vitamin D deficiency) to COVID-19. And since immunity is a top priority, I think it’s a miss that dietary guidelines didn’t take the opportunity to educate Americans about the links between diet and immune function. The unique mention in the DGA explains that “People who live with diet-related chronic diseases have an increased risk of serious illnesses from the novel coronavirus”.
However, I appreciate that the DGAC (remember, they wrote the 835-page scientific report to inform the much shorter DGA) is adding more color to the subject and creating two simultaneous epidemics in our country: “These parallels Epidemics, one non-infectious (obesity and diet-related chronic diseases) and one infectious (COVID-19) appear to be synergistic. ”
Schneeman explains that the committee faced a logistical, timing challenge: “The COVID-19 pandemic occurred as the committee was entering its final stages of work.” She continued, “As a committee, we were impressed by the vulnerability of people with diet-related chronic diseases (e.g. obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease) versus the most serious consequences of infection with the virus. In addition, the disruptions from the pandemic have created food insecurity and hunger, and heightened challenges to healthy eating choices. ”
DGAC member Regan Bailey, Ph.D., MPH, RD, shares this paradox, saying that “Diet is critical to immune defense and resistance to pathogens, but both malnutrition and overnutrition affect immune function can”. (Bailey is a professor in the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University and director of the Purdue Diet Assessment Center.)
At mindbodygreen, we recently examined malnutrition in the complex issue of food insecurity, and overeating (and unhealthy eating patterns) in the synergy between metabolic health and immunity.
Based on these findings, I believe that eating healthy patterns, supporting food security initiatives, eliminating nutrient gaps, and maximizing other lifestyle factors (e.g., physical activity, sleep, etc.) are key levers we choose to use to improve metabolic health can. and with it our immune system.
Indeed, DGAC member Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., RDN, LD, Professor of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University and Head of Nutrition at the Feinberg School of Medicine, underscores the fact that “today is more important than Healthy eating, weight control and prevention of cardiometabolic and infectious diseases are recognized goals worldwide. “
Ultimately, the deeper dive into the relationship between diet and the immune system in the Nutritional Guidelines carried over to the next iteration (2025-2030). In the meantime, Donovan shares these actionable findings: “A healthy immune system depends on an adequate intake of many nutrients, proteins, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (especially omega-3 fatty acids), vitamins (e.g. vitamin C and fat-soluble substances). Vitamins A, D and E) and minerals (e.g. iron and zinc). ”
In addition to these macro and micronutrients, Donovan explains, “The best place to get immune-sustaining nutrients is through whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, which provide fiber and phytonutrients that are beneficial for the gut microbiome and immune function.”