What’s the best way to stay well during the COVID-19 pandemic? Taking zinc or vitamin D supplements? Requesting hydrocholoquine treatments? Actually, my top recommendation to stay well is to minimize all sugar intake. Especially high fructose corn syrup.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t keep washing our hands, masking ourselves in crowded public places, and staying 6 feet away from others. If we’re already infected, we need to exercise care not to expose our fellowmen. In particular, we need to be mindful of those who may already have weakened immune systems. But in the long run, staying well is better than being sick and trying not to spread our germs. Wouldn’t you agree?
Sugar Hijacks Our Health
With regard to the current pandemic, there are at least 3 researched paths by which eating more sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup, increases both our risk for infection and our risk for a more severe outcome from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
First, sugar consumption increases insulin resistance. You understand that the higher the sweetness of your diet, the higher your insulin levels go to compensate. Eventually, your cells become resistant to this hormone. According to Benjamin Bikman, author of “Why We Get Sick,” insulin resistance is the fundamental factor in obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Of course, you know that these three conditions are the primary risk factors in COVID-19 infection and mortality. High fructose corn syrup, found in most soft drinks, is especially harmful. Gerald Shulman, professor at Yale University School of Medicine explains that, “Fructose is much more readily metabolized to fat in the liver than glucose is….[This] can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. NAFLD in turn leads to hepatic insulin resistance and type II diabetes.”
Can You Stay Well With A High-Sugar Diet?
There are more reasons to watch your sugar intake. Namely, elevated furin levels in your blood. Furin is a protein that SARS-CoV-2 hijacks to increase its infectivity. A 2018 study between researchers in Sweden and Finland found that over 4,000 participants with insulin resistance and diabetes had elevated furin. The implication is that the greater your insulin resistance, the higher your furin levels. Further, the higher your furin levels, the greater your vulnerability to COVID-19.
Finally, sugar, particularly high fructose corn syrup, feeds the pentose phosphate pathway in your body. Researcher Chris Masterjohn describes a process in which the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses this pathway to replicate its RNA. “There is a strong biochemical argument suggesting that fructose,” he says, “would provide extra fuel to the growth of RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. Fructose disproportionately feeds the part of the pathway that fuels viral growth.”
Eat Well to Stay Well
So what’s a sweet tooth to do? Here are some suggestions to minimize your sugar intake and help you stay well:
- Transition from soft drinks to flavored water, using stevia-sweetened pop as a stepping stone, if needed.
- Eat a breakfast of at least 15 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat to keep insulin low all day. If insulin spikes with your first meal, you are apt to have a reactionary blood sugar crash a few hours later. Inevitably, that crash instigates cravings. Soon, you are reaching for more insulin-spiking foods. Avoid the pattern by fueling with a low-carb meal first thing.
- Snack on foods that contain natural fats and slow-absorbing carbohydrates. Maintain lower insulin levels throughout the day by reaching for smarter snacks instead of cookies, candies, and crackers. For example, munch on olives and vegetables or cheese and fruit. How about a hard-boiled egg with some grape tomatoes, or some nut butter on celery?
- Supplemement with magnesium to improve your insulin sensitivity. When your insulin sensitivity increases, your cravings will lessen to some degree and you will be able to make healthier eating choices. You can work with a certified nutritional therapist to determine what form of magnesium to choose and how much to take.
Fernandez C, Rysä J, Almgren P, et al. Plasma Levels of the Proprotein Convertase Furin and Incidence of Diabetes and Mortality. J Intern Med. 2018 Oct;284(4):377–387.