Coronavirus: Eating well, avoiding processed food could help you survive COVID-19, experts say

Yum, but no. Photo credit: Getty

Nutritionists and doctors are warning Kiwis to avoid the temptation of using the lockdown as an excuse to give up exercise and gorge on easy-to-prepare but nutrition-low processed food. 

They warn piling on the pounds could make it more likely you develop serious complications or even die from COVID-19.

European Scientist reports nearly three-quarters of the first few thousand COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care in the UK were overweight or obese, and "patients with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome might have to up 10 times greater risk of death when they contract COVID-19".

The research was carried out by Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist with the UK's NHS. 

"What is staggering is that looking at all the data, it is irrefutable that metabolic disease is the leading cause of mortality from COVID-19," said Dr Malhotra.

"This covers much of what we are already being told, that outcomes for patients suffering from type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are far worse than in otherwise healthy adults. What is not being spelled out is that poor diet and obesity is behind this."

He said cutting out sugar and processed food would have benefits "in just a matter of weeks" that could lessen the effects of COVID-19. 

AUT senior lecturer and dietician Caryn Zinn said Dr Malhotra is right.

"The best we can do to prevent getting COVID-19 or to reduce its virulence if you do get it is to have a strong immune system and good metabolic health. To achieve both of these, it's critical to eat whole unprocessed foods that promote a stable blood sugar - of course alongside other lifestyle behaviours such as getting enough sleep, sunshine (where possible), regular exercise, engaging with friends and family (easily done on-line) and managing stress.

"The problem is, in high stress-times, when it comes to food, many turn to highly processed, packaged food for comfort. Now is the worst possible time for such choices. 

"As the Government is trying new things, some mere endorsement of eating healthy wholefood from our leaders should be mandatory. It always matters to look after your weight, and your metabolic health, but now's likely the most important time ever to do this." 

Exercise is one of the few reasons Kiwis are allowed to leave the house at present, but only if you stay local - as Health Minister David Clark infamously found out

University of California doctor Robert Lustig said processed food "sets you up for inflammation, which COVID-19 is happy to exploit".

"Time to rethink your menu."

Eating processed food has been linked to greater weight gain and obesity. 

Smoking has also been linked to the severity of COVID-19, a respiratory disease which can badly damage the lungs and has killed more than 160,000 people since emerging in China late last year.