How to lose weight and cut your Covid risk

    20 May 2020

    Obesity is one of the major modifiable risk factors for admission to hospital in the event of a SARS-Cov 2 infection. This has been demonstrated in Europe  as well as the UK by the ICNARC audit and researchers at Imperial College.

    Action on this issue is imperative. Whether you are self-isolating as per official guidance or you are a key worker, changes to your diet can make a swift impact on your ability to fight the virus. Insulin resistance, the precursor to diabetes, which is also associated with dysfunction of immune cells when infection is present, can be positively affected by eating the right foods and anecdotal evidence that evidence of benefit may begin to manifest itself within 21 days.

    It is important to experiment with different, evidence-based eating modalities to ascertain on an individual level, which one is beneficial, sustainable, affordable and satiating. If you are not hungry, you will not eat.

    The scientific literature supports the Paleo diet, the Ketogenic diet, the Mediterranean diet as well as vegetarian and vegan diets of all varieties. Time-restricted eating, also known as “intermittent fasting ”, is also an option
    There is data to recommend older diets like Atkins, Zone and Ornish. The relatively new “Carnivore diet” is still in the data-generating phase, but there is anecdotal evidence of potential benefit.

    No study has ever demonstrated the alleged long-term superiority of the officially recommended “low-fat, high carbohydrate“ diet; indeed an inverse relationship was found in a recent multi-country study.

    Calorie-counting diets are associated with elevated hunger levels and result in a lowering of the metabolic rate, which explains the observed regain of lost weight by the majority of those who follow them.

    Whilst widely divergent, all these plans have one thing in common: they avoid the consumption of UPFs (Ultra-processed food) and industrial seed oils e.g. canola, sunflower and soya bean. For some people, this may be the only option they have at the present time.

    What are UPFs? They are manufactured food products, a cocktail of refined sugars, modified industrial seed oils, additives, salt, fats and chemical components. They include soft drinks, baked goods e.g. biscuits, ice cream, chocolates, sweets, breakfast cereal, instant soups, baby formula and pre-prepared frozen meals. They are highly convenient, hyper-palatable, non-satiating and of no health benefit.

    The ingredients list on a popular brand of donuts reads more like an A’ level chemistry science project than anything resembling food.

    The only benefit of UPFs is that their manufacturers make modest annual profits of almost $400 billion. What are the harms of UPFs? They cause excess calorie intake by not being satiating and they induce a person to eat more quickly, enabling them to consume more food before the satiety signals of the brain engage. Does this mean that consumption of these foods contributes to obesity? I’m afraid it does.

    Obesity affects all levels of society  but has a disproportionate impact on lower socioeconomic groups. which includes a proportion of BAME communities already at higher risk of diabetes, and metabolic disease. UPFs cost up to 60 per cent less than unprocessed food. For some poor families, this is the difference between eating and going to bed hungry and partly explains why this group consumes more of them.

    UPFs are associated with the development of metabolic syndrome,  as well as coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

    Are these foods addictive? Refined sugar causes release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with addictive behaviour. In fact, it may be even more addictive than cocaine. Oddly enough, when people stop eating UPFs, they can experience withdrawal.

    How does one avoid UPFs? By eating, fruit, vegetables, full-fat dairy, butter, meat, eggs, poultry, seafood, and avoiding food that comes in a box or packet with a long ingredients list. We all succumb to temptation; I suggest that anyone who finds the desire to eat something processed overwhelming should treat themselves to the most expensive, high-quality indulgence they can afford; the higher quality ingredients in such foods will not affect satiety levels the way UPFs have been deliberately designed to.

    For some people this new, major change in direction, may be all they can handle under such trying times, especially essential workers & parents home-schooling children.

    When you remember that in the UK, UPFs account for 57 per cent of total energy intake and 65 per cent of the total refined sugar in the average diet this positive change alone may make a spectacular difference to both weight and health. The underlying factors that led to obesity in the first place, must at some stage be dealt with.

    We live in a social environment not engineered for human health, with mixed messages emanating from those whose interests do not include society becoming healthier. It is thus ironic that society blames the obese for their condition in a way that it blames no other patient group. An obese person has nothing to be ashamed of, and there is no justification for “fat-shaming”.