Healthy, Plant-Rich Diet May Help Lower Risk of Illness — Even from COVID-19

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November 24, 2021


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Poor metabolic health, which is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, has been associated with increased risk and severity of COVID-19. But how much of a factor is a poor diet when it comes to COVID-19?

In a recent study, researchers found that people who maintain healthy eating habits, particularly a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, may have a somewhat lower risk of COVID-19, compared with those who have unhealthy diets. After surveying more than 590,000 adults, researchers found the risk of severe COVID-19, was 41 percent lower among those with plant-rich diets.

“Nine out of 10 Americans aren’t eating their fruits and veggies, so we need to do better,” explains Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and Care Specialist (CDCES) with Community Health at Baptist Health South Florida. “And by making changes in what we eat, we improve our health overall. Improvements in how we eat also help with other chronic health conditions.”

The researchers emphasize that a healthy diet alone will not provide enough of an immune boost to prevent infection or severe illness from COVID. They say the findings indicate that a poor diet is one of the social and economic contributors to risks associated with the coronavirus.

The findings, published in the journal Gut, are derived from U.S. and British adults who participated in a smartphone survey. They revealed if they tested positive for COVID and whether they had any symptoms. They also answered several questions about their weekly consumption of various foods.

“This association may be particularly evident among individuals living in areas with higher socioeconomic deprivation,” the study concludes.

The following are a few suggestions from Ms. Kimberlain when it comes to food and changes to make for a healthier diet. “Sure, there are others,” she says. “But these are where I often start with people on where to change/improve.”

  • Aim to make 1/2 of your grains whole. Rolled oats in the morning, whole-wheat pasta at lunch and white rice at dinner. 1/2 of the grains in that example are whole. Find ways you can include whole grains vs refined grains. Try a new grain – quinoa, farro, buckwheat – there are so many out there, there’s bound to be one you like and enjoy and can switch out a refined grain for a whole grain.  
  • Make 1/2 your plate non-starchy veggies. Alternatively, as I like to say, use your dinner plate for all of your veggies (and your salad plate for your grain and protein). The point is we need to eat more veggies. Not only for their vitamins and minerals, but for their FIBER. Experiment. Try a new veggie three different ways. Find the way you like to eat it. And rather than focusing on the vegetables you ‘don’t like’ focus on the ones you do like.  And keep adding on to that.
  • FIBER. I know I mentioned it in the last bullet point, but we don’t talk enough about FIBER (and it deserves its own mention). Find ways to include more fiber. Fiber comes from plants and that’s why the movement to “eat more plants” and “plant-based” is so popular right now. Fiber has many benefits. While we all know it helps you go to the bathroom, it also helps lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar levels, keep you fuller longer, and can even help reduce the risk for certain cancers. Veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds – aim to include more of these foods so you’re able to get your daily dose of fiber. 
  • Eliminate sugary beverages. First, know how much added sugar you’re taking in from these drinks and begin to cut back, with the intent to have no sugary beverages. Recommendations on added sugar/day (not just from beverages, but also food) is 6 teaspoons/day for women and children and 9 teaspoons/day for men.  Once we know how much we’re either adding in (tea or coffee) and possibly drinking, we can begin to cut back. 

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