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Plant-based eaters 73 percent less likely to have severe covid outcomes (+ how to get started)

Written by Caroline DiNicola Fawley
Plant-based eaters 73 percent less likely to have severe covid outcomes (+ how to get started)

Quick Take

While it seems we're often given bad news in relationship to public health, some encouraging information has come to light: a recent study, looking at data from nearly 600,000 respondents, show that plant-based dieters are 73 percent less likely to have moderate to severe COVID, while those on a low-carb/high-protein diet are at an increased risk.

Here's what that means for boosting your immunity with plant-based foods and our easy tips for getting started.

On this page:

Why everyone should be health conscious

Who is at risk for COVID complications

A plant-based diet and COVID risk: How to lower your risk of moderate to severe COVID outcomes

How to boost your immune system naturally with food

5 ways to strengthen your immune system fast (without supplements)

 

Why everyone should be health conscious

As soon as cases of COVID-19 started to decline in the summer of 2021, the Delta variant has brought a new wave of disappointment, fear and discouragement to many. And this is completely understandable.

We are all so tired, drained, scared, and confused about what’s been happening the last year and a half (and then some) with COVID-19. With endless sources of information, constant updates, and misinformation, it’s difficult to stay informed and make decisions about your health! There is one thing that we know for sure: those who are healthier seem to tolerate the virus better, and have lower risk of hospitalization. 

Recently, CDC studies have concluded that even if you were able to get the vaccine, you may still be able to get and spread the Delta variant of COVID. In fact, 74 percent of those in the recent MA outbreak were fully vaccinated. But don’t be discouraged! The vaccine can still protect you from experiencing extreme symptoms, including hospitalization and death. In addition, boosters will likely be available to protect against the Delta variant, soon.

THERE IS HOPE! While it’s important to follow CDC guidelines, it’s also important to take health into your own hands. Now is an excellent time to take a good hard look at your personal health. Some people react severely to COVID, while others remain asymptomatic. This isn’t random. It’s time to check out at what puts a person at an increased risk for being hospitalized with COVID-19. Let’s look at the stats and do everything in our power to lower our personal risk so we can enjoy a healthy upcoming fall.

What increases risk for COVID complications?

1. Obesity

Obesity may triple your risk of being hospitalized from COVID-19, especially for young folks (1 in 6 children in the US are considered obese). 1 in 3 adult Americans are considered obese.

Those who are categorized as “overweight” also have an increased chance of hospitalization, due to weakened immunity and increased inflammation. Unfortunately, due to isolation during quarantine, many Americans have actually put on additional weight putting them at a higher risk for severe COVID, while a small percentage used their time in isolation to regain their health. This is of course a bad time for obesity rates to increase in America as they are, while new variants come into play that may adversely affect the higher BMI community. 

The good news: Obesity is 100 percent reversible! Keep reading to find out how. 

2. Diabetes:

“Having either type 1 or type 2 diabetes can make you more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19.” -CDC

The good news: Type 2 diabetes is reversible, and manageable. Type 1 diabetes can be manageable when following a low-fat, plant-based diet. This means you can eat fruit and potatoes again! Don’t believe me? Check out Mastering Diabetes to learn more and keep reading to find out how specifically you can manage diabetes with diet. 

3. Heart conditions:

“Having heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies, and possibly high blood pressure (hypertension) can make you more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19.” - CDC 

The good news: Luckily, many heart conditions like congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and hypertension are reversible! Keep reading to find out how. 

4. Smoking:

“Being a current or former cigarette smoker can make you more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. If you currently smoke, quit. If you used to smoke, don’t start again. If you’ve never smoked, don’t start.” - CDC

The good news: You can quit! Although being a former smoker puts you at risk, each day that you are clear of smoke your body is healing. Check out these top CDC tips to quit smoking

Many conditions that put people at risk for severe COVID-19 (like being 80+ years old, incurable health conditions, and pregnancy) are not reversible, so it’s important to keep your friends, family, and neighbors safe by following the CDC guidelines, taking charge of your own health, and boosting your immunity.

If you have a rare condition, check out this video to see if a lifestyle change can help you:  

 

For those of you with obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, and other inflammation-related non-communicable diseases, the cure is the same across the board: eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is low in fat, and high in fiber and antioxidants. AKA a whole-food, plant-based diet.

This style of eating is PROVEN to reverse heart conditions, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, reduce the symptoms of autoimmune diseases like lupus, psoriasis and MS, the list just goes on and on. Nutrition expert Dr. Greger shows us the science behind a plant-based diet and disease prevention and reversal in the video below: 


 

A plant-based diet and reduced COVID severity

Recent research, looking at nearly 600,000 respondents, show that you are 9 percent less likely to get COVID on a plant-based diet, and 73 percent less likely to get severe COVID if you’re vegan or pescatarian.

On the flip side, low carb diets like KETO increased chances of severe COVID-19 and hospitalization. 

Whether you suffer from underlying conditions or not, or have had the vaccine or not, it’s important to take action to lower your risk of getting the virus, and the severity to which it effects you by boosting your immunity. 

How to boost your immune system naturally

First, what is immunity?

Our immunity is our body's ability to fight off a foreign organism, like an infection or a virus. When your body senses a foreign substance, our immune response is to produce antibodies. Antibodies fight the germs, which we call antigens. When your immunity is at its strongest, you produce more antibodies, which means you have more good guys fighting on your side.

So if your “it’s just allergies” coworker takes a sip of your coffee accidentally, or that guy on the subway wasn’t covering his mouth while coughing, you have a lesser chance of their antigens taking over your body and getting you sick.

Immune System Boosters for Adults

As you age, your immune response decreases. This is why it's especially important for the elderly to improve their immunity through diet and lifestyle changes because they are more susceptible to lasting damage and even fatality through common illnesses like colds and the flu. But don't worry – this article's chock full of immunity boosters for adults and kids, alike. 

How to Boost Your Immune System with a Plant-Based Diet

Ok, so if a strong immune system is the goal, how can you get there? Well, look to your plate!

You can boost your immunity naturally by adding more fruits and veggies to your diet. Diets that promote 5-6 servings of fruits and veggies a day are proven to boost your immune response and antibody production.

While both fruits and veggies lessen your chances of getting sick, the best "antiviral diet" is when they're eaten in combination. 

And when it comes to quantity, the more the better! The consumption of more than 6 servings of fruits and veggies was associated with an even higher immunity response (go figure)!

A whole food plant-based diet (healthy vegan diet) consistently contains the most servings of fruits and veggies of any diet and therefore is the best diet for immunity boosting. 

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System Fast (Without Supplements!): 5 Simple Hacks

1. Eat Foods High in Antioxidants (AKA Fruits and Veggies!) 

Let’s take tomatoes for instance. 

This nightshade is an absolute superfood. Not only are tomatoes delicious, they also contain compounds that prevent sun damage, have been associated with a lower chance of cancer, and can reduce the risk of heart disease. 

Tomatoes also have incredible immunity-boosting compounds making them a great addition to any antiviral diet. In one study, subjects stopped including fruits and veggies from their diet. No surprise: their immune response plummeted. But by adding just 1 ½ cups of tomato juice a day to their nutrient-deficient diet, they were able to stabilize their immunity to where they were before they took fruits and veggies out altogether. 

But let’s not stop at tomatoes. Did you know red peppers contain 100 percent of your RDA of vitamin C? Did you know pumpkin seeds contain zinc which is immunity boosting? Did you know that mushrooms, our favorite edible fungi, increase our antibody production?! Stick to mainly plant foods to see real immunity boosting results. 

Tip: Be “protected” by eating 9 servings of fruits and veggies a day

2. Drink Lots of Water

Drinking water will keep your body hydrated and help you to flush out toxins from your kidneys and body. Try to drink eight glasses a day, minimum. Not a fan of drinking water? Try herbal teas, lemon water, or add a small splash of cherry, cranberry or grape juice to your water to flavor it slightly. 

3. Get Your Blood Pumping (Outside!)

Exercise can actually help prevent communicable diseases and sickness.  Studies shows us that by exercising, you can actually prevent sickness, including from COVID-19. Try to get your heart rate up for a minimum of 15 minutes a day. Exercising outside in the sunlight can give you a vitamin D boost, which is essentially for a boosted immune system. Outdoor exercise is also associated with increased mood and can work stronger than depression medication. 

4. Avoid Refined Sugar and Animal Products 

Refined sugar and animal products both cause inflammation. Antioxidants found in plant-based foods prevent inflammation. Your body works hard to fight inflammation, and inflammation can reduce your immunity response

5. Relax 

Nobody likes to be told to "relax." Still, stress can cause inflammation and reduce your immunity response. Try meditating for even just 5 minutes at a time. Follow an online guided yoga flow, or even take a walk outside. If you aren’t able to get out for a walk, try 3 deep breaths when you’re starting to get stressed out. 

Need help kickstarting your plant-based diet?

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Key Takeaways: 

  • In addition to following the CDC's guidelines, working on your own personal health can help prevent illness and/or reduce severity.
  • The healthier you are, the less likely your chances of hospitalization from COVID-19.
  • Eat a mostly or fully plant-based diet, drink plenty of water, relax, and exercise to boost your immune system naturally. 

**

By Caroline DiNicola Fawley

Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.



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