Does eating healthy prevent people from getting, dying from COVID?

A new study claims that one-third of coronavirus cases could have been avoided if people had healthier eating habits. 

Fresh vegetables are sold at the shuk (market) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Fresh vegetables are sold at the shuk (market)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

We know that a daily diet that includes lots of fruit and vegetables is healthier, but now it seems that it can also help prevent one from being infected with COVID-19

A new study from Boston published in the journal Gut reports that consuming healthy food like produce may lower the risk of contracting the virus, in addition to lowering the severity of symptoms if one is infected. Although doctors have stated that metabolic conditions including obesity and type 2 diabetes can cause severe coronavirus complications, this study is among the first to add nutrition to the equation.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston added that the effect of diet on COVID-19 risk, as well as on the severity of symptoms is particularly strong among those living in weakened socio-economic areas. Previous reports suggest that poor nutrition is a widespread trait among groups disproportionately affected by the epidemic, but data on the link between diet and the risk of getting the virus and then developing severe symptoms is lacking, said study editor Jordi Marino, a doctoral student and instructor at Harvard Medical School, in a press release..The research team analyzed data collected on 592,571 people from the United States and United Kingdom between March and December 2020. Each participant completed a survey of their dietary habits, with study authors scoring people’s “diet quality,” with an emphasis on fruit and vegetable consumption.

During the follow-up period, 31,831 participants developed COVID-19. The findings showed that people who had a healthier diet had a 9% lower risk of contracting the virus compared to people who ate a poorer diet. Similarly, the results showed that those who ate healthier were 41% less likely to develop severe symptoms. 

"These findings have been consistent in a variety of analyses we performed that address other health habits, social welfare factors, and virus transmission rates in the community," Marino added in the release.

Another one of the researchers, Dr. Andrew Chan, explained that while getting vaccinated and wearing a mass indoors and in crowded spaces is paramount, the research suggests that eating properly may reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

(Credit: Dror Katz)(Credit: Dror Katz)

The researchers also observed a cumulative link between poor nutrition, increased socioeconomic deprivation and COVID-19 risk. 

People who live in poor neighborhoods who rely heavily on fast food are much more susceptible to the virus than any of these conditions alone. Models estimate that nearly a third of virus cases would have been avoided if one of these two conditions didn’t exist, explained Dr. Marino.

In conclusion, the researchers believe that making healthy, plant-based foods more available and affordable can help advance the end of the epidemic. 

"Our findings are a call for governments and those who develop protocols to prioritize healthy eating and welfare with influential policies," Dr. Marino concluded.