( Produce Marketing Association )

Recovering from the human and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be easy.

However, a food as medicine trend will spur fresh produce demand and could help lead the way for foodservice outlets in coming years, according to William Li.

Li, an author, physician and scientist, spoke July 24 at the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice: Delivered virtual show and didn’t pull any punches about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Li said the COVID-19 virus can damage the heart, lungs, brain and circulatory system.

“This means that beyond the respiratory components, we’re likely to actually have lots of long-term side effects, which is why you’re hearing about this long tail from COVID-19,” he said.
While a vaccine and effective treatments are needed, part of the protection that Americans seek could come fresh produce, he said.

Li said foodservice operators can help deliver key foods that promote health. 

“While we used to think about health being equated with pharmaceuticals, and a doctor writing prescription, the future that is coming to us is really food as medicine, where the foods, whether it’s from a farm, or whether it’s at a grocery store, or a farmers market, restaurant or foodservice, food truck, anywhere we can actually get healthy fresh foods — actually is an opportunity for us to improve our health.”

Eat the rainbow

“We are doing our best to avoid (the virus) but what can we do is to actually boost our immune defenses, and this is where food can play a huge role,” he said. “Right now, what we are looking at is how food as medicine can activate our defenses, especially our immunity.”

Colorful fruits an vegetables contain bio-active chemicals that are “really good” for the body.

“What I and other researchers are really doing is diving deep to discover what these natural chemicals are,” he said, stating that the chemicals in fresh produce are “every bit as powerful” as drugs.

Some produce, including oranges and tomatoes, are high in vitamin C and help immune systems. 

“Vitamin C helps us stimulate natural antibodies and also lowers inflammation, so don’t be mistaken. Inflammation and immunity are related,” he said.

Mushrooms help immune responses with vitamins A and D, along with beta glucan fiber.

Broccoli sprouts have been tested for promoting disease-fighting T cells, and broccoli sprouts were shown to be more effective than a standard flu vaccine in fighting the flu virus in one study.

“And if you can’t find broccoli sprouts, the grown-up broccoli is also really great,” he said. 

Blueberries and blackberries also can elevate T cell immune response function, he said. Cranberries and pomegranates produce favorable immune responses, he said.
 

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