How to protect yourself against viruses

| Michaela Nesvarova

Pediatrician Ellen van der Gaag would be defending her PhD thesis at the UT today, but had to postpone due to the coronavirus. Somewhat ironic, considering that her research also focused on viruses. Specifically, on how parents can better protect their children against viruses through nutrition. ‘Although I couldn’t test it, my advice could also work against coronavirus.’

Ellen van der Gaag has worked as a pediatrician in ZGT (Twente Hospital Group) for the past fourteen years. In that time, she has encountered a lot of children with recurring infections of the respiratory track. ‘Many of them kept coming back with infections, even though they had no medical disorder,’ says the doctor. She decided to look into this issue through PhD research at the UT’s Department of Research Methodology, Measurement and Data Analysis.

Diet that helps against viruses

‘We compared many behavioral and nutritional aspects and we found out that the children with repeated infections ate less vegetables and less beef than healthy kids,’ explains Van der Gaag. ‘Based on that, we developed dietary advice that helps against viruses in general. It makes the immune system stronger, so when any virus comes, the body can handle it.’

The dietary advice is as follows: eat green vegetables five times a week and beef three times a week. You should consume whole milk, full-fat yoghurt and butter daily. ‘This diet contains a lot of animal protein, which is necessary for children to grow and to boost immunity. It also contains a balanced omega 3 and 6 fatty acid composition and is rich in chloroplasts, which are both anti-inflammatory,’ adds the doctor.

'I believe the mechanism is the same and it should also help adults'

This nutritional guide was developed for children, but can it help adults? ‘It might be slightly different for adults, because children are growing and need more nutrients,’ answers Van der Gaag. ‘On the other hand, this diet is based on unprocessed food, which means it’s healthier because it lacks many additives. I believe the mechanism is the same and it should also help adults.’

Coronavirus protection?

Now, the million-dollar question. Can it also help against coronavirus? ‘I couldn’t specifically test that, because coronavirus didn’t exist at the time of my research, but yes the approach could help. Through this nutrition you become healthier with a stronger immune system, which can help you against COVID-19,’ says the researcher. ‘This is a different approach to dealing with the coronavirus. It is proactive, rather than reactive. It is about looking at what you can do yourself: eating healthy, sleeping well and keeping your body balanced.’

According to Van der Gaag, it therefore can’t hurt to try her approach. ‘It’s never too late to start,’ she says. ‘Of course, if you start eating this diet today, it will not help you tomorrow. It takes time, but we still have some time. I believe we can use nutrition to strengthen our immune system and protect ourselves against diseases.’

Ellen van der Gaag

Besides her work as a pediatrician at the ZGT’s sites in Hengelo and Almelo, Ellen van der Gaag is a PhD candidate in the research group Research Methodology, Measurement and Data Analysis at the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences. More information about her PhD thesis, titled ‘Health promoting effects of nutrition in children’, can found here.