COVID-19 And Nutrition

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The virus can spread from the infected individual’s mouth or nose as liquid particles, ranging from small aerosols to large respiratory droplets1.

It emerged as a global health crisis in 2019 resulting in more than 6 million deaths worldwide. Despite substantial progress in clinical research  towards understanding SARS-COV-2 and management of COVID-19 to limit the spread of the virus, the emergence of virus mutants poses an issue of increasing concern as SARS-COV-2 continues to outbreak in many countries1.

Symptoms of COVID-19

The majority of people infected with COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and will recover without special treatment. Some patients may develop a serious illness that may require medical care2. Older people and those with underlying medical conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, or cancer are more likely to develop serious symptoms 2. Common symptoms include cough, fever or chills, shortness of breath, sore throat, muscle or body ache, loss of taste or smell, diarrhoea, headache, nausea or vomiting, congestion or runny nose, and fatigue. Patients with a critical illness can experience acute respiratory failure, septic shock or multiple organ dysfunction1

Can diet help prevent COVID-19 infection?

A well-balanced diet helps keep the immune system fully operational so yes, but even a most-balanced diet can’t prevent infection on its own. 

What to eat when you’re ill?

Nutrition strongly influences infection progression by suppressing or boosting the immune system. Individuals with a high fat, refined carbohydrate and sugar diet are found to be at  higher risk of infection and related adverse outcomes 3. Micronutrients and macronutrients in the following foods provide essential benefits at different stages of infection, necessary for proper immune function,  inflammation regulation, and overcoming infection3. A prompt and effective immune response is key to preventing, fighting, and eliminating virus infection. A weakened host immune system enables virus propagation resulting in inflammation and excessive tissue damage in organs rich in angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 receptors (a key receptor required by the SARS-CoV-2 virus to enter the cell)4. This results in an inflammatory response which generates appetite loss and modifies intestinal absorption (this limits intake, uptake and utilization of macronutrients and micronutrients resulting in undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies).

Protein-rich foods

The recommended protein intake for COVID-19 patients ranges between 1.2-2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day3. To optimize recovery from COVID-19 include three palm-size portions of meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts, chickpeas and meat alternatives such as tofu. (more beans and pulses, less red and processed meat)5

Vitamin C-rich foods

The recommended Vitamin C intake is 1-2 g/day. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, kiwi, grapefruit), red peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and potatoes6. Vitamin C helps to boost the immune system, reducing the susceptibility to respiratory infections and oxidative damage3.

Anti-inflammatory foods

Anti-inflammatory foods include tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collards), nuts (almonds, walnuts), fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines) and fruits (strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges). Fish oil has shown to be beneficial in improving the prognosis of critical patients, owing to its anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties3. Vitamin B3 also enhances immune response by providing a robust anti-inflammatory response to respiratory tract infection3


Easy way to deliver nutrients, especially when struggling with appetite (common when ill)

With the immune system combatting coronavirus, energy requirements are increased to meet physiological needs. A liquid diet, including high volumes of soups which need less energy to digest, can be considered3.

When should you see a doctor?

If you feel like you can’t breathe, start wheezing, feel a constricting pain in your chest or if symptoms rapidly worsen, make an appointment to see a doctor at the earliest.


Prompt and appropriate nutritional therapy play an essential role in the management and recovery from COVID-19. A healthy balanced diet with the appropriate macronutrients and micronutrients reduces susceptibility to COVID-19, helps to combat COVID-19 and promotes a healthy immune system.


  1. Features, Evaluation and Treatment of Coronavirus (COVID-19). 2022. Available here:
  2. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). World Health Organization. Available here:
  3. Nutrition and Immunity in Covid-19. Available here:
  4. Antwi J, Appiah B, Oluwakuse B, Abu BAZ. The Nutrition-COVID-19 Interplay: a Review. Curr Nutr Rep. 2021 Dec;10(4):364-374. Available here:
  5. How your diet can improve Covid-19 recovery. BBC Food. Available here: How your diet can improve Covid-19 recovery - BBC Food
  6. NHS. Vitamins and Minerals. Available here:

Hannah Khairaz

BSc Biomedical Sciences Student, University College London

Hannah Khairaz is passionate about health, research, medical writing and educating the public about current advancements in medicine. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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