Avoiding processed food won't protect you from the coronavirus, but sleep, exercise, and reducing stress will help

Avoiding processed food won't protect you from the coronavirus, but sleep, exercise, and reducing stress will help

Paulo Whitaker/Reuters


No, even this many oranges won't prevent the coronavirus or any other infectious disease.

  • Wellness gurus are recommending that people "boost" their immune system with superfoods to help protect themselves from the coronavirus.
  • Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is important for your overall health and your immune system, but shunning processed foods and loading up on vitamins won't prevent or cure the coronavirus.
  • Instead, make sure you're also getting plenty of sleep and exercise and managing your stress to stay healthy and, if you do get sick (from coronavirus or a common cold), keep it from becoming more severe.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

With hand sanitizer and other disinfectants running low around the world, people are looking for more innovative ways to help protect themselves against the coronavirus. Cue the wellness gurus advertising a wealth of superfoods and supplements, often expensive, to help "boost" your immune system and protect against the virus.

While eating a healthy diet is still important in the midst of an epidemic, no single food or diet has been shown to cure or prevent disease, according to experts.

"We can't prevent getting coronavirus by taking vitamins and eating oranges. It's a very infectious disease," Dr. Caroline Apovian, Director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center, told Business Insider.


No food or supplement can prevent or cure the coronavirus if you've been exposed to it

Many nutritionists, wellness fanatics, and medical professionals tout the health benefits of a balanced diet. But while that's certainly important for overall health, particularly long-term, piling on the kale right now isn't going to help your odds against getting the coronavirus.

It is true that malnutrition can impair your ability to fight off illness and infection - research shows that a severe lack of calories or key vitamins and nutrients is linked to a increased risk of death from multiple causes, including infectious diseases. It can also prevent wounds from healing quickly.

However, that's not the case for most otherwise healthy adults with ample access to nutritious food. If you're not in the habit of eating a variety of fruits, veggies, and lean sources of protein, now is a good time to start. Following common-sense dietary advice is enough to keep your immune system in good shape, no superfoods required, according to Apovian. In particular, you want to make sure to get enough vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc.

But there's little evidence that eating extraordinary amounts of veggies (or anything else) can "supercharge" your immune system.

"If you're in contact with coronavirus, it doesn't matter how many oranges you eat, you're going to get it," Apovian said.


Eating well can, however, make your recovery easier if you do get sick, from coronavirus or anything else, she added.

"The only thing that a healthy diet and being in shape will do is make sure if and when you get sick, it won't be as severe," Apovian said.

There's also no evidence that processed food and sugar will make you more likely to get the virus

Research has also shown that over-nutrition, or an excess of empty calories, can also have negative consequences for health overall.

Processed foods and added sugar have been linked to chronic health issues like type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. They can also cause inflammation, Apovian said, putting your body under added stress. For this reason, she recommending avoiding processed items, as well as fried foods and those high in saturated fat.

But again, evidence links these types of foods to health issues over time, so there's no evidence that a single donut is going to raise your risk of coronavirus - it's an infectious disease, and the best precautions are still washing your hands and keeping other high-touch surfaces germ-free.


Two things you do want to avoid, though, are tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. Particularly because coronavirus is a respiratory illness, lung damage from smoking can be especially concerning if you do get sick.

Excessive alcohol use can also impair the immune system and the body's ability to heal itself, according to research. However, the occasional glass of wine in moderation is unlikely to be a threat, particularly if it has the benefits of helping you relax.

Other important habits include getting enough sleep, managing stress, and exercising regularly

One of the most important things you can do to keep healthy, always but especially during any disease outbreak, is make sure you're getting enough sleep - even one sleepless night can have a measurable negative impact on your immune system, blood pressure and other markers of health, research shows.

Stress can also make a big difference for your immune system. Yes, this means managing fears about the coronavirus itself - good strategies include taking breaks from social media and relying on trust media sources for information, both of which can help you avoid panic and misinformation.

Exercise can also keep your body functioning well, since researchshows that it reduces inflammation and supports infection-fighting cells.


If you're working from home or staying out of the gym, there are plenty of ways to still get your sweat on - body weight movements like burpees, lunges, push-ups and more can give you a quick full-body workout with no equipment.

As an added bonus, endorphins from exercise also reduce stress.

Read more:

How to stockpile healthy and nutritious food for a 14-day quarantine as coronavirus spreads across the US

Wellness influencers are telling followers potentially toxic doses of vitamins will protect them from the coronavirus


Pharmacies and grocery stores are starting to ration hand sanitizer as Americans stockpile amid panic over coronavirus spread

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