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5 Ways Changing Your Diet May Protect You From COVID

The keto diet may improve your COVID risk profile, according to new research.

There's nothing you can do to make yourself immune to COVID-19, but you can cut your risk by making short-term lifestyle changes. These include enjoying more of these 7 immune-boosting foods and doing your best to avoid these 20 places where you're most likely to catch it.

This becomes particularly important if you have any of the pre-existing conditions associated with a higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, which include obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The good news is that lifestyle changes can also help cut your risk of a poor outcome.

The catch is that the changes needed aren't quick fixes. That being said, a recent research paper published in the Journal of Translational Medicine argues that adopting the keto diet can rapidly reduce some of the critical risk factors for severe COVID-19.

The reason is twofold, according to lead author Massimiliano Caprio, MD, a professor at San Raffaele Roma Open University:

  • The keto diet, which forces the body to break down fat rather than use glucose for fuel, has been proven effective for rapid weight loss, fat loss, and reduction of the metabolic complications of obesity such as diabetes.
  • Ketosis creates ketone bodies, which have been proven effective at inhibiting inflammation and modulating the immune system. This may help prevent the "cytokine storm" associated with the most severe and deadly cases of COVID-19.

With that in mind, here are five ways the keto diet could protect you from COVID-19 and its more serious complications. And for more healthy eating tips, check out The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

Keto can help you drop excess weight quickly.

weight loss

There are several reasons obese individuals are at significantly higher risk of dying from COVID-19. Excess body weight can interfere with breathing even under the best of circumstances, according to Dr. Caprio and his colleagues, and obesity causes chronic inflammation, which, among other things, impairs the immune response and harms cardiovascular function. Obesity itself is a risk factor for many of the conditions associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes.

Adopting a keto diet presents what Dr. Caprio refers to as a "valid opportunity for people with obesity to quickly lose a considerable amount of weight," thus allowing for a "rapid risk reduction of all severe clinical outcomes."

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Keto can lower your blood sugar.

Continuous Glucose Monitoring

Studies show that high blood sugar is associated with an increased risk of a cytokine storm, an immune response where the body starts attacking its own cells, according to Dr. Caprio. It's also one of the most accurate predictors of COVID-19-related respiratory distress, with or without a diagnosis of diabetes. When high blood sugar rises to the level of diabetes, it significantly increases the risk of severe respiratory tract infection.

At least one study cited in Dr. Caprio's research paper suggests high blood sugar can actually make you more susceptible to the coronavirus in the first place. But you can quickly move toward reversing that risk by adopting the keto diet, which has been shown to help control blood sugar.

Your blood pressure could drop down to a healthier range.

checking blood pressure

Studies have shown that having hypertension (high blood pressure) can double your risk of dying from COVID-19.  But losing even a moderate amount of weight on the keto diet, which can happen quickly, can cause a swift reduction in hypertension.

These are the 13 worst foods for high blood pressure.

Keto can reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome.


Metabolic syndrome isn't an illness in and of itself but rather a cluster of conditions that, occurring together, lead to chronic inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. These conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and excess belly fat. Having any three constitutes "metabolic syndrome."

A recent study demonstrated that people with metabolic syndrome who contract COVID-19 are at a significantly higher risk for severe illness and death than their peers. The keto diet is an effective strategy for rapidly reversing all of the conditions that comprise metabolic syndrome, according to Dr. Caprio and his colleagues.

Keto can improve your immune response.

woman getting over a cold

The keto diet has been associated with an improved immune response. When it comes to battling COVID-19, the immune response can be a double-edged sword, however, in some cases attacking not just the virus but the body's own cells and tissues. Clinically, this phenomenon is referred to as a "cytokine storm" because it is characterized by high blood levels of an immune system protein known as "cytokines."

Ketone bodies can help prevent cytokine storm "thanks to the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating effects of ketone bodies," Dr. Caprio told Eat This, Not That! Accordingly, some scientists have proposed administering ketone bodies to COVID-19 patients (which would be akin to ketone supplementation.) However, Dr. Caprio and his colleagues propose that for those at risk for severe COVID,  a more effective approach would be adopting the keto diet as a precautionary measure.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a food, health, and culture writer whose work has appeared online and in print for Reader's Digest as well as Health Digest, Huffington Post, Taste of Home, and others. Read more about Lauren