The role of protein in post Covid recovery


Over the past year, we have read or heard varying experiences of people who have been either at the center or at the periphery of Covid-19. The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath; these symptoms are usually accompanied by fatigue, and more commonly, loss of appetite.

With an infection, the body must work intensely to mount an immune response. But Covid-19 can have a significant impact on what and how much you can eat. So, it is crucial that you are equipped with a healthy diet to keep your immunity and energy levels in check.

This is where protein comes in. Protein is important to protect against muscle loss while fighting Covid-19, especially if you are bedridden or inactive. An essential macronutrient, our body needs protein to:

  • Keep cells healthy and create new ones.
  • Fuel our energy and carry oxygen throughout the body in the blood.
  • Carry regulation and expression of DNA and RNA.
  • Support muscle contraction and movement.
  • Helps form antibodies that fight off infections and illnesses.

Protein also plays a huge part in building your immunity. Since the start of the pandemic, initiatives like Right To Protein have been communicating the importance of protein to build better immunity against infections. This is because, the macronutrient is the foundation of the body's defence systems, antibodies, enzymes, and hormones, which subsequently benefits the immune cells that include leukocytes, cytokines, phagocytes which are necessary for normal immune function and stave off the infections.

·       Lymphocytes: Knows as white blood cells, are the protein-rich blood cells which play a major role in keeping us healthy.  They are one of the body's main types of immune cells.

·       Cytokines: These proteins are the messengers of immune response. They play the role of turning off and turning on the immune cells. They revive immune cells and ensure proper functioning of the immune system.

·       Phagocytes: They play a role of damaging bacteria and viruses, making us healthier and disease-free.

All these cells need protein for survival, and this is how protein is linked to a stronger immunity.

Besides consuming the right quantity of protein, it is important to eat the right quality of protein. Protein-rich foods are often seen as costly as compared to other foods; but certain foods are rich in protein and accessible for all population groups – the best example being soy or soyabean products.

Soy is the only plant-based source of protein which contains all nine amino acids, making all soy-based foods comparable to animal protein. They are a rich source of phytoestrogens, helps promote the growth, repair and renewal of cells and is a great source of healthy omega-6 fatty acids like linolenic and alpha-linolenic.

In addition, foods like chickpea, lentils, nuts & seeds, chicken, eggs, dairy products etc. are also densely packed with proteins and a wide range of nutrients, making them healthy options for people varying dietary preferences.

Here are a few ways to up your protein intake as your body recovers from an infection:

  • Have a wholesome breakfast with foods like oatmeal, whole milk, soy milk, eggs, yogurt or lentils
  • Add soybeans, peas, lentils to stir fries, casseroles, salads or soups
  • Turn to tofu, tempeh or soya chaap as an alternate to meat based on your appetite
  • Choose soy nuts, trail mix or boiled eggs for snacking

There are plenty of guides and resources like the Protein Index, that are available online to guide you in eating protein-rich meals. All that is required is a conscientious and informed approach to healthy eating.

Since a bout of Covid-19 leads to the body being drained, one needs calorie-dense meals, a balanced diet, immunity-building foods and plenty of fluids. While no foods or dietary supplements can prevent the onset of the deadly virus, maintaining a healthy diet is more important than ever before to make your immune system battle-ready.