The mental and physical health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are numerous and not limited to the virus itself, according to experts who say eating plenty of vegetables—along with specialty items like oysters—as well as getting enough sleep and exercise can all contribute to a stronger and healthier immune system.


Italian researchers suggest that individuals who follow a Mediterranean diet will improve their chances of staying COVID-19-free and maintaining overall health.

The traditional Mediterranean diet focuses on olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, fish, whole grains and small amounts of wine and red meat, say the Naples-based University of Frederico II researchers whose observational findings were published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, as well as Jerlynn Jones, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Jones told Forbes that each meal should be 50% vegetables, 25% protein and 25% whole grains. 

Because quarantine-related stress can affect sleep and mood, the University of Frederico II researchers recommend that individuals consume Melatonin- and serotonin-rich foods for supper including roots, leaves, fruits and seeds, especially almonds, bananas, cherries and oats. 

Milk products like yogurt are also high in sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan and can reduce the risk of respiratory infection, they point out, while Jones recommends plain Greek yogurt because it’s fat- and sugar-free and protein-rich.  

In the same vein, fruits like red peppers, oranges, strawberries and broccoli, and vegetables including sweet potatoes and leafy greens can help stave off diseases for a number of reasons, says a handful of experts, including the World Health Organization, which advises that consumers prioritize purchasing vegetables, fruits and reduced-fat dairy products on grocery runs.

The Italian researchers point to a 2010 study out of Netherlands-based University of Leiden Medical which found that zinc inhibited SARS and another type of coronavirus, so while unproven with COVID-19, it may be a good idea to consume a zinc-rich diet; oysters have the most zinc per serving, but zinc is also found in commonplace foods like poultry, red meat, nuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, beans and lentils.

Keep in mind that these research reports are observational and based on historical evidence, so their validity has yet to be proven with COVID-19 .


Craving Oreos, potato chips and other carbohydrate, fat and protein-heavy foods in quarantine? Stress from events like a pandemic causes people to seek solace by craving sugary comfort foods, says the researchers. And it’s been found that women are more likely than men to experience these cravings. Jones advises that consumers avoid eating high-sodium and high-fat in quarantine as these can lead to higher cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass.

Key Background

There has been much talk of meat shortages around the United States due to disruptions in the supply chain from coronavirus outbreaks, though experts have repeatedly said there will be no long-term shortage, but maybe a lack of variety. No worries, researchers of this study say that these recommended Mediterranean diet foods are likely already in your pantry, it’s just a question of prioritizing these foods in lieu of comfort options with inferior nutritional value, to derive dietary value. 

With quarantine mandates, people are experiencing serious mental and physical health challenges that pose threats to balanced diets and lifestyles. These challenges include less opportunity for exercise, reduced access to school lunches, affordability and availability of cheap processed foods, the stress of social and personal life changes, disrupted sleep cycles and loneliness.

Five psychological studies reviewed by the Lancet found quarantine to be the greatest predictor of acute stress disorder in the 2003 SARS epidemic. Quarantined hospital staffers who may have come into contact with a SARS patient were significantly more likely to report exhaustion, detachment, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration and indecisiveness, reluctance to work or resignation.

Further Reading

Nutritional recommendations for CoVID-19 quarantine (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition via National Institute of Health)

Coronavirus: To zinc or not to zinc? (UCHealth)

Food and nutrition tips during self-quarantine (World Health Organization)

These 7 Zinc-Rich Foods Can Help Boost Your Immunity (EatingWell)

Yes, The U.S. Could Face Minor, Local Food Shortages, But They Will Be Temporary (Forbes)

Study Says Obese People Should Quarantine Longer (Forbes)

The Mediterranean Diet: From an Environment-Driven Food Culture to an Emerging Medical Prescription (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health via National Institute of Health)

The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence (Lancet)

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