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What is the Role of a Healthy Diet in the Covid-19 Pandemic?

People who eat a whole foods plant based (WFPB) diet tend to report that they get sick less often or not at all. While I would like to think that eating a WFPB diet, exercising, sleeping well and reducing stress will protect me from Covid-19, the truth is that it won’t. Might the virus affect me less severely than other portions of the population? Possibly, and here’s why.

A recent CDC report states that if you have heart disease, hypertension or lung disease, you are at added risk if you get COVID. This is a large portion of our population thanks to the Standard American Diet (SAD). So, where does a WFPB diet fit into all this? First of all, what is a WFPB diet? Also known as a vegan diet, it is a low fat way of eating that emphasizes minimizing processed food and animal products and eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.

According to Dr. Neal Barnard from the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, “Diet affects all of these, even lung disease”. I have summarized three of the risk factors that he has discussed.

*High blood pressure: 40% of those with severe infection had high blood pressure before infection. Why would WFPB diet reduce blood pressure? Fat in animal products increases viscosity (thickness) of blood; plants are naturally low in fat and sodium and rich in potassium, all of which can help lower blood pressure.

* Diabetes: Type 2 Diabetes begins with insulin resistance. Fatty foods block insulin from moving glucose into cells, so blood sugar rises. Typically in a matter of days, blood sugar drops when people move to WFPB diet.

* Lung disease:A respiratory virus that settles into a compromised lung isn't good, but diets that emphasize WFPB are associated with improving lung health. We need more studies, but it does seem that dairy avoidance helps with asthma, and some studies show reducing fat can also help.

All of the above conditions can be improved by making changes to your diet, and a healthier body might improve your outcomes if you get infected.

How can you start? Here are some tips from Registered Dietitian Lauren Simmons.

1. Start slow. It is tempting to make big changes all at once, but making small changes will increase the likelihood of sticking with it. Start by making one meal a week plant based and slowly increasing over a few weeks.

2. Use lots of flavor! Not including meat in a meal may seem bland to some people. Try using fresh herbs, citrus and spices to add a punch of flavor to your meals. Salsa and hot sauce is another great way to add flavor without adding a ton of salt.

3. Think of some recipes you already make that are plant based. Many of us eat this way without even realizing it! This can be a great place to start especially if you have family members who are wary of eating less animal products.

Dietary changes can be very powerful in disease control and prevention. I hope you consider making some changes today to take charge of your health.

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