In the face of so much uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s tempting to search for answers that might help you regain some sense of control over your life. You might, for instance, find yourself reading the advice of self-appointed health “experts” and social media gurus, who love to make overblown and often blatantly inaccurate claims about using diet to avoid getting seriously ill from the novel coronavirus and spreading it to other people.
Their arguments can be summed up like this: A population full of strong bodies would effectively stanch the pandemic’s spread and hasten our return to normalcy. Also, eating the right food and fortifying one’s immune system (through vitamins, etc.) is enough to personally inoculate oneself from the worst effects of COVID-19.
As science, it’s garbage. Worse, emphasizing healthy eating above all else is a way of casting doubt on the necessity of masks, social distancing and, on occasion, the efficacy of vaccines.
This focus on diet is shared by alternative-health gurus, medical quacks, social media grifters, and at least one celebrity chef and former presidential candidate. These people often don’t deny Covid’s existence, or even its virulence. But they often imply that the climate of fear surrounding the pandemic is overblown and that mainstream authorities have deliberately ignored the issue of diet in their safety messaging. The true pandemic, they say, is America’s longstanding preponderance of diet-related disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and obesity.
Perhaps you’ve seen these ideas echoed by friends on social media, where they tend to proliferate. Or maybe you’ve seen the misinformation emerge at its source: by various influencers or public figures who advance these claims online, often to audiences in the tens of thousands.
One particularly brazen tweet that was devoid of much context came from the UK’s Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist who cites dieting as something of a panacea in the fight against COVID.
As Nicola Guess—associate professor at the UK’s University of Westminster and Head of Nutrition at the Dasman Diabetes Institute—tells Lifehacker, diet is and has always been an important aspect of ensuring overall health. But there is zero evidence to support claims that eating healthier will protect one from contracting COVID or succumbing to its more serious effects.
She writes in an email:
Eating a healthy diet and…exercise is sensible as it protects us from a lot of diseases—in my view there is no evidence and no justification for pinning healthy eating on COVID-19 (unless you have something to sell). Is it worth trying to eat more healthy during a pandemic if there’s a chance it could protect you against severe infection? Sure, because there are no downsides to eating less sugar, junk food etc. Let’s just not pretend that it’s going to prevent someone from getting COVID-19 and even dying from it — there are 23-year-old…