Navigating COVID-19 with Good Nutrition

Navigating COVID-19 with Good Nutrition

Prepared by: Stephanie Falvo-Nicoletto – MS, RD, LDN

During these unprecedented times, proper nutrition and stress management play a vital role in optimal health. This pandemic has sabotaged our eating habits, exercise routines, and heighten stress levels. Some individuals are more inclined to cope with this disruption by indulging in foods for comfort. Indulging in sweets, salty snacks, or richly prepared meals may be the means for individuals to cope with these stressful times. The suspension in the operation of fitness centers has disrupted exercise routines resulting in inactivity. It has forced some of us to binge watch our favorite series and while binging on unhealthy foods. Like the coined term freshman fifteen (the fifteen pounds gained during ones freshman year of college), the weight gained during the COVID -19 pandemic can be referred to as the quarantine fifteen! Decrease physical activity and increase in consumption of empty calories is the culprit for expanding waistlines.

Stress negatively impacts health by triggering our fight or flight response in which prepares our bodies to react. The fight or flight response kicks in when our central nervous system releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are activated or triggered when we are anxious or stressed. As a result, one my experience rapid heart rate, increase in blood pressure, and increase in rate of breathing. Chronic stress greatly impacts the body’s ability to recover from illness and can contribute to long-term health issues. Depression, insomnia, and digestive issues can occur in individuals experiencing long-term stress and anxiety. Good nutrition and exercise is the best medicine for managing stress. Although research is limited linking nutrients and stress management, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics support the notion of nutrients like antioxidants and B vitamins can aid in managing stress. These nutrients are best achieved through a healthy eating pattern that incorporates a variety of foods. For example, consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables helps to deliver antioxidants and nutrients that may work together to promote health. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean meats, and low fat dairy products provide naturally occurring B vitamins. Current research examining nutrition interventions designed to improve diet quality have been linked to reducing stress and depressive symptoms. The Mediterranean Diet is an example of a nutritional intervention rich in B vitamins and antioxidants. This diet includes focuses on the consumption lean meats, fish, green leafy vegetables, legumes, and nuts. Maintaining adequate B vitamin status may prove to be beneficial in managing stress and brain health. Deficiencies in these micronutrients, such as B12 or folate, are correlated with increased risk and incidence of depression. The following are tips for managing stress and improving physical activity.

Nutrition plays a fundamental role in building and maintaining a resilient immune system, which may enhance protection or lessen the impact of seasonal illnesses. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics mentions the following nutrients to support your immune system:


Protein is made of amino acids which are building blocks that help grow and maintain the body's tissues such as muscles, tendons, blood vessels, skin, hair and nails. Protein is also involved in synthesizing and maintaining enzymes and hormones to keep the body's systems functioning properly. It makes up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions and the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. Adequate dietary protein is necessary for healing and recovery. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. Simply, the RDA can be thought of as the minimum amount you need to prevent illness or stay healthy. The National Academy of Medicine also sets a wide range for acceptable protein intake—anywhere from 10% to 35% of calories each day. It’s important to be mindful of the quality of the protein being consumed in our diets. Beef, poultry, and pork (as well as milk, cheese, and eggs) provide high-quality protein, however may contain higher fat contents. Plant foods including whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, and vegetables deliver lower-fat high quality protein. The Harvard School of Public Health lists examples comparing grams of protein and fats:

  • A 4-ounce broiled sirloin steak contains about 33 grams of protein, but it also delivers about 5 grams of saturated fat.
  • A 4-ounce ham steak contains about 22 grams of protein and 1.6 grams of saturated fat, but contains 1,500 milligrams of sodium (approximately 65% of our RDA for sodium).
  • 4 ounces of grilled sockeye salmon has about 30 grams of protein, naturally low in sodium, and contains just over 1 gram of saturated fat. Salmon and other fatty fish are also excellent sources of omega-3 fats, a type of fat that’s especially good for the heart.
  • A cup of cooked lentils provides about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber, and it has virtually no saturated fat or sodium.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that is vital for maintaining vision and promoting growth and development. It is considered essential for the body cannot make it on its own, thus required to be consumed in our diet. It plays a critical role in the normal formation and maintenance of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs. Vitamin A is known as an anti-inflammation vitamin because of its critical role in enhancing immune function and is involved in the development of the immune system. Vitamin A has demonstrated a therapeutic effect in the treatment of various infectious diseases. There are two types of vitamin A that are found in the diet. Preformed vitamin A is found in animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, and dairy foods. Provitamin A is found in plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables. The most common type of pro-vitamin A is beta-carotene. The best sources of vitamin A are cod liver oil, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified skim milk, and orange and yellow vegetables and fruits. Other food sources rich in beta-carotene are broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, and most dark green, leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is a water soluble vitamin touted for its role in supporting a healthy immune system. Vitamin C is essential for the growth and repair of tissue all over the body. It helps heal wounds and repair and maintain healthy bones, teeth, and skin. As an antioxidant, vitamin C fights free radical damage in the body by preventing or delaying certain cancers and promoting healthy aging. An article published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics , mentions though it may not keep you from catching a cold, there is some evidence that high doses of vitamin C may decrease the length of cold symptoms by as much as one to one-and-a-half days for some people. Sources rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, green and red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kiwifruit. It’s important to note that fruits and vegetables lose vitamin C when heated or stored for long periods of time. To get the most nutrients, consume them as soon as possible after shopping and consider steaming or microwaving vegetables for short periods of time to limit nutrient loss.


Zinc is known to play a central role in the immune system, and zinc-deficient persons experience increased susceptibility to a variety of pathogens. Zinc is the second most abundant mineral in the body. It’s a mineral that is commonly added to supplements and other healthcare products like lozenges that are intended to boost the immune system. Worldwide, about two billion people are estimated to be affected by zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency is more pronounced in the elderly population. It is estimated that approximately thirty percent of the elderly population is considered to be zinc deficient. Current research published the journal Nutrients, concluded that zinc can be seen as beneficial in the well-being of patient’s suffering from immune diseases. Red meat and oysters are the most abundant dietary sources of zinc. Long-term zinc supplementation is typically safe for healthy adults, as long as the daily dose is under the set upper limit of 40 mg of elemental zinc. Excessive doses may interfere with copper absorption, which could increase your infection risk.

Supplements may offer a small benefit for immune health. They should not be used as a replacement for a healthy lifestyle. It is important to consult your physician before using vitamin or nutritional supplements. The key to navigating through COVID -19 is maintaining a well-balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, engaging in regular physical activity, and refraining from smoking. These are some of the most important ways to help keep your immune system healthy to reduce your chances of infection and disease.

In regards to food choices and stress, it is beneficial to choose a well-balanced, healthful eating pattern. Physical activity is a key stress buster! According to the Dietary Guidelines and Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 150 minutes per week plus strength training twice per week is recommended to reduce stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise helps to control blood sugar and blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer, strengthens your bones, improves mood, improves sleep, and reduces stress. There are several ways to combat stress. One way is relaxation activities, such as meditation, guided imagery or breathing exercises. Stay in tough with family and friends by communicating through video chats such as Facetime, Zoom, or Messenger. These are just a few ideas to stay healthy and active during quarantine. Before beginning any exercise program, it is important to consult your physician. A Registered Dietitian can help establish healthier eating patters by tailoring a plan to meet your specific food preferences and goals.

Works Cited:

Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d.). The Nutrition Source: Whar Should I Eat? Retrieved from Protein:

Huang, Zhiyi & Liu, Yu & Qi, Guangying & Brand, David & Zheng, Song. (2018). Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 7. 258. 10.3390/jcm7090258.

Moore, M. (2019, March 22). How Vitamin C Supports a Healthy Immune System. Retrieved May 2020, from Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):1286. Published 2017 Nov 25. doi:10.3390/nu9121286