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Eat This to Avoid COVID, Says New Study 

Your diet can protect you more than you know.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

In terms of preventing COVID-19, we're familiar with the most tried-and-true advice: Get vaccinated, wear a face mask in public, observe social distancing. But less well-known—and perhaps just as important—is how to boost the immune system to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Using solid data from non-COVID-specific studies, experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci recommend exercise, reducing stress, and taking vitamins C and D. But new research suggests your daily diet might directly guard against COVID. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.


Study Analyzed Nearly 600,000 People

30-something woman and man and a young child eating salad at home
Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia

For a study recently published in Gut, researchers looked at nearly 600,000 participants in the COVID Symptom Study, who submitted information to a smartphone app. The participants, who lived in the US and UK, were followed from March to December 2020. At the outset of the study, they answered questions about their eating habits before the pandemic. The quality of each person's diet was evaluated using a diet score that emphasized plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables. 


What the Research Found

A young smiling woman having healthy breakfast in the morning

The study found that people whose diets were plant-based had a lower risk of contracting COVID-19 or becoming severely ill from the virus. People who ranked in the highest quartile of the diet score had a 9 percent lower risk of developing COVID—and a 41 percent lower risk of developing severe disease—than people in the lowest quartile.

"These findings were consistent across a range of sensitivity analysis accounting for other healthy behaviors, social determinants of health and community virus transmission rates," said the study's lead author, Jordi Merino, a research associate at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School.

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Diet May Reduce COVID Risk

Woman saying no to chocolate cake dessert

"Although we cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings, our study suggests that individuals can also potentially reduce their risk of getting COVID-19 or having poor outcomes by paying attention to their diet," said co-senior author Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist and chief of the clinical and translational epidemiology unit at MGH. 

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Just Issued Another Dire Warning


This Group Is Particularly At Risk

Woman looking into distance.

The researchers found that people who were of lower socioeconomic status and followed an unhealthy diet had a much higher COVID risk—more than the sum of the risk of each factor alone. "Our models estimate that nearly a third of COVID-19 cases would have been prevented if one of two exposures—diet or deprivation—were not present," said Merino.

The researchers urged that public-health strategies be developed that encourage healthy eating. "Our findings are a call to governments and stakeholders to prioritize healthy diets and wellbeing with impactful policies, otherwise we risk losing decades of economic progress and a substantial increase in health disparities," said Merino.

RELATED: Signs You May Have Delta, According to Patients


How to Stay Safe Out There

mask wearing

Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael