By Smadar Hod-Ovadia, Director of Nutrition and Food Safety
Studies from many different countries illustrate how the metabolic-nutritional health status in the population greatly influences the effects of the Coronavirus. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney and liver disease, and possibly nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin D deficiency, all of which significantly impair the immune system, elevate the risk of serious morbidity, hospitalization in intensive care, need for breathing and mortality.
It is also true that the disease around the world more frequently and more severely affects disadvantaged populations, partly due to poor nutritional status and metabolism.
Israel, even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, was facing national health and economic challenges connected to an unhealthy diet. Obesity and diabetes, with all their complications and harms, are adversely affecting adults and children.
The main reason is that 50% of the calories consumed by teenagers and 40% of the calories by grown adults come from ultra-processed foods: High-calorie food lacking essential nutrients, alongside obesity, lead the Israeli population to very high rates lacking vital vitamins and minerals, such as Iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin D and calcium.
Furthermore, Israel is one of the world’s leading countries in the consumption of added sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages.
The extent of dietary-metabolic insufficiency is particularly severe among approximately 18% of the population suffering from chronic food insecurity, including about one-third of Israeli children. Many in society do not have the resources to purchase a healthy food basket and are forced to rely on donations from private nonprofit organizations or initiatives that distribute food, not always nutritionally superior in quality.
It is inevitable that due to the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, the number of families and people suffering from food insecurity will only continue to increase. Already during this period we are aware of many “new” inquiries for help from charities and welfare departments.
Therefore, the importance of quality and nutritious food-aid is especially critical during this time.
Leket Israel donates fruit and vegetables that provide vitamins and minerals critically important to general health and to the immune system. Emphasis is placed on the quality and range of produce provided.
Cooked meals purchased during this time were tested for nutritional composition (Leket ensured the food was sourced from fresh and unprocessed raw materials while balancing between protein, carbohydrates and vegetables).
Leket’s activity is very significant and contributes to improving the nutritional status of the needy, and thus to their immune system.
In addition, to adjust to the constraints of the period, and because of the importance of promoting proper nutrition, particularly right now, Leket’s nutrition education department “Nutrition for Life” has developed a unique zoom workshop series on nutrition that is geared to the public (more people in poor financial condition). In the workshops, participants learn how to eat healthy, even on a limited budget. Workshop topics are varied and include: smart consumerism (how to go shopping at the supermarket while keeping expenses down), the dietary and financial benefits of home cooking and importance of legumes consumption. How to choose healthy types of bread, how to address the specific food needs at home, how to encourage children to eat more vegetables, and more.