A study published by Kaiser Permanente, a southern California-based health institute, in August, had indicated that obesity had emerged as an independent risk factor for fatalities among the patients infected with Covid-19. The findings corroborated that of a similar study, conducted in China in March, while the
UK-based Indian cardiologist Aseem Malhotra says excess body fat is known to compromise the immune system, and a weak immune system is prone to chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes and also Covid-19. “Excess body fat means that the immune system cannot optimally defend the body against virus attacks like Covid-19, as it is busy burning fat,” he says. “For a person with excess fat it also takes longer for even any medicine to work because the lowering of the immunity guard means the virus can thrive for a longer period in such a condition.”
Dr Malhotra’s second book, The 21-day Immunity Plan: How to rapidly improve your metabolic health and resilience to fight infection spells out the reasons why a dietary change could help with weight loss, staying fit and equip people to deal better with chronic metabolic diseases and effectively combat Covid-like pandemics in future. “Chronic metabolic diseases are conditions associated with excess body fat like type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart ailments. Most of the Indian middle class have poor metabolic health and are unaware of it,” says Dr Malhotra, speaking to Mirror from London.
Malhotra wrote the book in the months of May and June when most countries were in shutdown mode. In fact in April, after British Prime Minister
Dr Malhotra says blood glucose levels, blood pressure and a cholesterol profile which includes triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein — known, in layman’s terms, as ‘good’ cholesterol — are indicators of the metabolic health of a person. “About 40 per cent of the Indian population has metabolic syndrome, that is they do not meet at least three of the above criteria,” says Dr Malhotra. “Even in the US, only one out of eight adults has optimal metabolic health.”
In 2018, Dr Malhotra and Donal O’Neill, a former international athlete and documentary filmmaker co-authored a book, The Pioppi Diet, advocating a “low-carb high-fat” approach to diet. The diet derives its name from an Italian village, Pioppi, where the traditional staple encourages consumption of vegetables — legumes, nuts and fish — and frowns upon red meat, starchy carbohydrates and sweets. The honorary consultant cardiologist at Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation says, the overdependency on processed food and sugar are among the two major causes of poor metabolic health among Indians.
“Anything that comes out of packed food with more than six ingredients is harmful for the body. There is also over consumption of low-quality carbohydrates, rice and potatoes. All of these contribute to metabolic syndrome,” he says. “The implications of poor diet are also not economical. By 2030, this is expected to cost the Indian economy by around $3 trillion.”
Dr Malhotra says studies have shown that African tribes without any exposure to packaged foods have shown no evidence of high blood pressure even among the elderly population, suggesting that the high incidence of hypertension is a result of dietary habits in the urban population. He is also a strong votary of completely doing away with consumption of sugar and fruit juice.
“Eating raw fruit is better than drinking juice even if you do it at home because the sugar content is very high,” he says. “For a glass of orange juice, one needs at least four to five oranges so one can imagine the amount of sugar being pushed into the body. Genetically Indians are sensitive to the impact of sugar.”
The cardiologist maintains that the traditional Indian diet was better suited to prepare our immune system. “Ghee is not the problem, vegetable oils which are being pushed by the food industry cause harm,” he says. “Also, the claim of certain oils to reduce cholesterol is a complete sham.” He suggests pulses, vegetables, lamb, chicken and eggs for protein. “A large section of the Indian population does not consume or get to consume quality or even enough protein,” he says.
Dr Malhotra feels a vaccine would have limited impact on a population which has a weakened immune system. “Just like exercise without proper diet will not help, similarly with a poor immune system because of bad food choices, a vaccine won’t be of much help,” says Dr Malhotra. “Maybe we will survive the Covid-19 pandemic but there could be an even deadlier virus attacking us in future.”
Anything that comes out of packed food with more than six ingredients is harmful for you. There’s also over consumption of low-quality carbohydrates, rice and potatoes
– Dr Aseem Malhotra
WHAT YOU CAN DO
► Lose excess fat to boost metabolic health
► Develop and support the immune system to fight infection
► Reduce risk of diabetes, cardiac ailments, cancer and dementia
► Eat a maximum of three meals per day
► Include low-sugar fruits and nuts in your diet, and fibrous vegetables in at least two meals