Coronavirus diet changes happened in 2020. Are any of these coronavirus diet changes worth keeping in 2021?

Here’s a look at how the pandemic shaped our eating habits this year, according to Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD.

2020 was quite the year! The coronavirus pandemic changed many aspects of life as we knew it, including how we eat, and it also helped shine a light on the health risks associated with a poor diet.

Coronavirus Diet Changes

Here are the most significant coronavirus diet changes and trends that emerged in 2020, what we learned from them and the wisdom we should take into the new year to maintain good health.

1. We cooked more

It stands to reason that with restaurant dining down this year, we cooked a lot more. Indeed, 40% of Americans say they’re cooking more often than they did before the pandemic, according to the FMI Foundation, a food safety and nutrition organization based in Arlington, Virginia. Cooking meals at home is generally linked with a more nutritious diet.

• In one study based on more than 11,000 participants, cooking more than five meals a week (compared to less than three) was associated with higher fruit and vegetable intake and better adherence to healthier dietary patterns, like the Mediterranean and DASH diets.

• On top of that, participants who frequently cooked meals at home were 28% less likely to be overweight and 24% less likely to have excess body fat.

If there’s one healthy food trend to take into 2021, consider keeping up your new cooking habit, at least for the most part.


2. We took comfort in food

Given the stress of a global pandemic and the merging of work and home life, it’s not surprising that comfort food made a comeback this year.

• One poll found an uptick in favorites like pizza, hamburgers, French fries and mac and cheese. Nostalgic brands like Fig Newton, Oreo and Ritz saw a spike in sales.

• Cereal purchases also skyrocketed in 2020, after years of sluggish sales.

• But findings from a new study revealed that comfort eating during the pandemic resulted in weight gain for some people.

• In a survey of more than 50,000 people worldwide, 44% of participants noted an increase in unhealthy snacking since the lockdowns went into effect.

• People also reported a rise in the consumption of sweets and sugary drinks.

• Overall, about 27% of people reported weight gain after stay-at-home orders were mandated. Among those who were already classified as obese, weight gain was even more common.


3. Added sugars emerged as a significant public health threat

An excessively sugary diet is a driving force behind illnesses like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and these disorders appear to put people at higher risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19.

• This year, the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended lowering added sugar intake from 10% of total calories to 6%, acknowledging sugar’s role in a range of health problems.

• The leading sources of added sugar are sugary drinks, including tea and coffee with their sugary additions, candy and other desserts, sugary cereals and granola bars.

• Without question, one of the best things you can do for your health is to cut back or eliminate sugary drinks.

• And check food labels to see how much added sugar is hiding in your favorite items.

• This year also saw an updated food label, which has made it easier to identify the amount of added sugars in the foods you buy. Armed with this info, you can compare products and choose ones with lower amounts of added sugar.


4. Immune-boosting foods and nutrients took center stage

In 2020, sales of immune-supporting nutrients saw a 51% increase over 2019, according to New Hope Network, a market research company in Boulder, Colorado, focused healthy lifestyle products.

• Interest in immune-boosting foods also grew, according to a recent study published in the journal Nutrients that assessed Google search terms during a pre-pandemic period through the early months of the spring lockdowns.


• There’s no singular immune-boosting diet, but an eating pattern that’s rich in fiber-filled, whole plant foods, such as fruits, veggies, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds, will supply nutrients, such as vitamin C, zinc and selenium, which can help optimize how your immune system functions.


5. Plant-based eating continued to gain momentum

We stocked up on plant-based essentials this year, from frozen fruits and veggies to canned pulses to pastas.

• These foods are budget-friendly, more accessible and easy to store for long stints at home, making them an especially appealing health trend throughout 2020.

• Interest in sustainability and healthy eating (such as the popularity of the plant-focused Mediterranean diet) are helping to drive this trend.

• Plus, a nutritious plant-based eating pattern that’s low in added sugars and heavily processed grains supplies the nutrients necessary to fuel your immune system and support a healthy sleep cycle, two top concerns amid the pandemic.


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