Why a pandemic is the perfect time to refocus our diets

Why a pandemic is the perfect time to refocus our diets

Guess what? Poor metabolic health makes each of us more susceptible to viral infections and, as a planet, we place ourselves at even higher risk during times of viral pandemics.

Fortunately, COVID-19 has a relatively low risk of serious illness and death. However, if a more virulent strain were currently on the loose, we would undoubtedly be witnessing a much higher death rate than the current 3.7 per cent.

We know that people with chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes are at twelve times higher risk of death from COVID-19.

In Australia, there are approximately 1.7 million with type 2 diabetes and 2 million with pre-diabetes, together roughly 15 per cent of the population.

A recent study from the US revealed that only 12 per cent of Americans are metabolically healthy, including people who are of normal weight.

I suspect we're not far behind this alarming figure in Australia.

The fact that the majority of Aussies are not healthy has the potential to overwhelm our health system during pandemics, putting us all at even higher risk of a bad outcome.

Vaccines are likely to have limited effectivity if significant proportions of the population remain metabolically unhealthy.

Viruses stay in the body longer in obesity, increasing the risk of new and more dangerous strains developing.

Although the pandemic is upon us, we can reverse our poor metabolic health within a few weeks, and as a nation, we can prepare for the next wave or the next pandemic, which could be even more deadly.

A poor diet is responsible for more death than inactivity, smoking and alcohol combined.

We need to watch what we eat during the lockdown.

We must minimise our consumption of unhealthy junk food, fast foods, processed foods and products with added sugar, as well as refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white potatoes and white flour (including pasta and white breads).

Next time you reach for those low-quality carbs, remember that they have no nutritional value and are not essential to our survival.

A pandemic is the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate what we eat.

For us to focus on real foods with essential proteins and natural saturated fats, and try our hand at cooking.

Let's work together for a healthier future for all Aussies.

Dr James Muecke, an ophthalmologist, is the 2020 Australian of the Year.