NAT 201022 QUTAMI1-1603369570067
Al Qutami at the event. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Right nutrition, proper sleep, hydration and physical exercise have an important role to play in building overall immunity in people to fight infectious diseases like COVID-19, a leading academic said on Thursday.

Dr Hadia Radwan,assistant professor of clinical nutrition and dietetics from the University of Sharjah conducted a 3 week survey of over 2060 residents of UAE during the lockdown in May 2020. She presented her findings at the 6th edition of the Dubai International Nutritional Congress organised by Dubai Health Authority (DHA) that held a virtual conference. The three-day event, being held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Minister of Finance and President of the DHA, has the theme: ‘Your Immunity your treasure’.

Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Radwan said: “This survey was conducted jointly by the Sharjah Supreme Family Council - Health Promotion Department and the University of Sharjah. What we observed was that home cooked food consumption went up to 90 per cent and there was a significant drop in people ordering takeaways. In addition people were conscious about increasing their immunity and had more fresh fruits and vegetables.”

However, Dr Radwan said that people need greater education on health and nutrition as many increased their portion size during lockdown, were up longer in the night watching movies and had sleep deprivation, did not exercise, had stress and also lack of proper hydration. “All these factors play an important part in boosting immunity. This study was exploratory and we are still analysing the results which we might publish soon. People need more training on ways to increase their immunity.”

Public health a priority

At the opening ceremony of the event, Humaid Al Qutami, director general of DHA, stressed upon the significance of the theme of immunity in this edition. He said: “COVID-19 pandemic has prompted institutions and societies to reconsider all health care policies and procedures related to protection and prevention against communicable diseases.

Perhaps the messages that we highlighted in our previous five editions, where nutrition experts emphasised the importance and the necessity of protecting public health, and enhancing immunity through healthy dietary patterns, are the same messages that the world is focusing on right now to protect ourselves.”

Dr Wafa Ayesh, director of clinical nutrition department at DHA and chairman of the congress emphasised upon the role of clinical nutrition in mitigating the prevalence of Non communicable Diseases (NCDs). She said: ““We must take care of our natural-line of defence that protects our bodies from diseases, which is the immune system. The immune system is the first and most important line of defence against disease and infection, so everything must be done to enhance its ability to do its job to prevent diseases.”

NAT Wafa 1-1603369572333
Dr Wafa Ayesh speaks at the event. Image Credit: Supplied

What kind of nutrition should one have post COVID-19?

“Patients recovering from COVID-19 experience the clinical symptoms of fatigue, dyspnea (shortness of breath) and loss of appetite which make it difficult to eat well, leading to several nutritional deficiencies. Hence, a personalised plan for diet, nutrition and fluid intake needs to be created in consultation with an expert”, advised Ruba El Hourani, Head Dietitian at RAK Hospital. She was speaking from her experience of treating post-COVID patients who showed a clear shift in diet pattern, finding it difficult to eat normally.

Tips to gain back stamina and immunity
• Include more protein-rich foods as these are the building blocks of life. Add whole grains, dairy products, nuts, seeds, lentils in the diet. Chicken, eggs and fish can also be added.
• Make sure to follow food safety and hygiene guidelines while preparing food.
• Since eating large portions may be difficult in the initial phases of recovery, eat smaller but frequent meals. Difficulty in swallowing food during the recovery period could hamper food intake, hence opt for liquids, soft or mashed foods instead.
• Make sure all meals are simple, healthy and freshly cooked at home; avoid takeaway and eating out.

Among the symptoms that El Hourani listed post COVID-19 were discolouration of nails, dry skin patches — which can be attributed to inappropriate fluid intake — and sudden hair loss, again due to insufficient diets.