If You Want to Reduce COVID-19 Complications, Change Your Diet, Says Dr. Oz and Cut Down on Meat and Sugar
"Do all the things that make you healthier today, like lose weight, break a sweat and lower your inflammation by leaning green with lots of veggies," says Dr. Mehmet Oz, in the context of how to be healthy in the time of COVID-19.
When Dr. Oz speaks the world listens. The closest thing we have to "America's Doctor," the Harvard educated heart surgeon has been helping TV audiences and millions of readers of his books and magazine to understand that we are in charge of much of our health–and with a few key preventative measures such as eating right, getting sleep, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight–we can sidestep many of the worst chronic diseases that plague Americans.
Heart Disease, Hypertension, Obesity, Diabetes, and even some cancers, can all be abated or avoided by the dietary choices we make every day. So when COVID019 showed up and stopped life as we know it, Dr. Oz went on a full-court press to get us to eat healthier, now and for the future! Because what is good for our long-term health is also good for the short-term chances of avoiding the worst of COVID-19's symptoms.
The urgent message Dr. Oz wants to get out there: You can lower your risk of life-threatening disease by changing the way you eat.
"The first thing I tell patients is to change their diet, especially eat less sugar and more vegetables," Says Oz
"If you look at the people suffering the worst from COVID-19, it turns out that over 90 percent of those admitted to the hospital are overweight or have diabetes or are hypertensive and have chronic illnesses that they are living with.
"As a heart surgeon, the first thing I tell patients is to change their diet, especially less sugar and more vegetables," Dr. Oz says. "Both moves will improve your diabetes and reduce the inflammation which leads to complications," he explains.
"Think of meat as an occasional luxury, as opposed to something you eat every day or every meal. If you want to avoid COVID-19 you need to lose weight and boost your immunity with foods that lower inflammation. Vegetables should take up most of your plate, not be thought of as a side dish."
"If people don't manage these chronic ailments, government health officials will not want them [anyone with chronic disease] to go out during the next year," he said. "They will remain at high risk and be considered vulnerable." So if only to socially engage the re-opened community with less fear of a full-blown life-threatening case of COVID-19, eating healthy is the ticket."
At 60, having just turned the big birthday the day before our conversation, Dr. Oz is the picture of what healthy eating and exercising for six decades can look like: Fit, strong and sharp, working fully and eating a mostly vegetarian diet, with a late breakfast and early dinner. Here's what he eats and his advice to you for how to live your healthiest now and in the future.
Here is Dr. Oz's best advice to be healthier in a time of COVID-19. You'll never believe what he does to his almonds.
Q. How can you change how people think about food and their diet?
Dr. Oz: Part of the problem with the health care system is I get only paid when you get sick. And I get paid more if you are sick. By that, I mean all doctors. We have it backwards.
It's unfortunate because we are throwing away one of our biggest tools, which is nutrition. We know that eating a healthy diet is a way to address all those chronic illness that bankrupt our healthcare system--diabetes, hypertension, obesity. Eating vegan or vegetarian can be a first line treatment for these life-threatening conditions.
Q. So how do you get people to give up meat?
Dr. Oz. We need to not think of meat as cool or manly. You don't have to eat meat to be manly. The Game Changers showed all those athletes saying they don't eat meat because it isn't as good for them as plant-based protein when it comes to recovery. They are world experts on their bodies and I trust their judgment.
When people sit down to dinner, vegetables should take up most of your plate, not be a side dish. Inflammation causing foods such as processed foods should be avoided. I prefer eating predominantly vegetarian, which is how Lisa cooks. She’s a vegetarian and wrote a bestselling cookbook, “The Oz Family Kitchen”. Many people don’t realize that meals without meat can taste spectacular.
Q. Is sugar the main culprit with diabetes?
Dr. Oz. Sugar is a big issue, of course, and causes obesity which leads to diabetes. But meat creates inflammation and drives complications. Stopping sugar is tough since it is found in so many locations. So reducing meat is an easier first step for many patients.
Q. So is your philosophy: Everything in moderation?
Dr. Oz. A little bit of meat does not create a big problem. If it’s the flavoring, or on occasion, it is not negative. Plus attacking meat eaters is not productive. It makes people retreat into their corners.
We get nowhere when we make this into an ad hominem argument, as in, all meat-eating is bad. That's just not productive. The point is to get people to cut back and eat more plant-based food.
Right now it's important to recognize that I am not taking away what you love. I am showing the pros and cons. If you eat meat every meal, consider having meat once a day, or only two or three times a week. And if you really want to have meat, choose a high-quality source.
Q. So what does Dr. Oz eat in a day? Let's start with breakfast:
Dr. Oz: When not taping shows, I don't eat breakfast. Or I delay my breakfast until 10-11 am as part of my intermittent fasting routine. I also finish dinner before 8 pm so my body is free of food for 14 hours daily. My favorite breakfasts are yogurt and berries, or last night's leftovers, like salad. Salad at 10 in the morning is surprisingly great.
Lunch is 2 o'clock but almost always vegetarian. We keep vegetarian meals around the house and have a freezer full and also pantry.
If you make it easy to cook vegetarian, then people will do it. If you have never made quinoa and black beans, you won’t start unless someone makes it simple to learn.
Dinner is the big social meal of the day. We sit around dinner for hours so we have lots of choices. Some of the kids, especially Daphne and Oliver, eat meat so we will include in our feasts, especially on weekends. But the winning dish is usually vegetarian.
Snacks: I soak walnuts or almonds in water overnight so they become chewy.
I love radishes. I adore them. They are not sweet. But I like savory snacks. Radishes are right int the middle... they have a bite to them. You can carry them in a zip-lock bag and chew on them during the day. They're juicy. I salt them.
Q. How do you feel about salt?
Dr. Oz: if your blood pressure is fine then I don't worry about it. Table salt added by the user is fine but there is a huge amount of salt added to processed foods. Gently salting the radishes gives it an elevated flavor profile, so there's nothing wrong with a little table salt for enhanced flavor.
Q. What do you think about taking vitamin D?
Dr. Oz: Vitamin D can prevent a cold, and Zinc and vitamin C can shorten the duration of a cold. I would apply these findings to COVID-19, or any virus. We get Vitamin D primarily from the sun, but it is also in mushrooms. Vitamin C and zinc are both in lots of foods so increase intake in your diet.
But the bigger story is to reduce inflammation from the food you eat. COVID-19 causes lots of inflammation, so best to adopt a healthy diet that is high in antioxidants.
Q. What do we know about behavior versus genetics when it comes to health?
Dr. Oz: Genetics probably drives 1/3 of our aging by the time we are age 50, according to the RealAge Test. So our lifestyle is primarily responsible for our longevity. We control more of our destiny than we appreciate.
Blood type O people don't form blood clots as often in Covid-19. The blood type gene is near the same gene that regulates clotting and inflammation in the body. So, Blood Type 0 people have fewer heart attacks.
Blood Type A people have more heart disease, and Blood Type B also have the same predisposition to inflammation. Only Blood Type 0 has an advantage.