Nutrition

A plant-based diet may lower severity of COVID infection by 73%

Looking for another reason to carve out meat from your dinners? A new study has suggested those who eat a plant-based and/or pescatarian diet are significantly less likely to develop a moderate to severe COVID-19 infection.

The study, published in journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, found pescatarians had 59 per cent lower odds of developing serious illness from coronavirus, this number jumping to 73 per cent for people following a plant-based diet.

Compared with those who said they only consumed plant-based foods, those who reported eating a low carb-high protein diet had nearly four times the odds of having a moderate to severe COVID-19 infection.

The figures were based on the survey responses of 2,884 frontline doctors and nurses – those with extensive exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus – across the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US.

Using a 47-item food frequency questionnaire, the survey asked for the dietary patterns of the healthcare professionals, while also enquiring about the severity of any COVID-19 infections they had suffered, using objective criteria.

Potentially influential factors, from ethnicity, medical specialty, and lifestyle (smoking, physical activity), BMI and co-existing medical conditions were all considered when determining the study’s key findings. However, the researchers warn that men outnumbered women in the survey, meaning the findings may not be applicable to women.

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So, how could a plant-based diet help ward off a severe COVID infection? The scientists behind the study cannot be sure, pointing out the research only identified correlation, not any causal links.

However, they also highlight how plant-based diets are rich in nutrients, especially phytochemicals (polyphenols, carotenoids) that are important to maintain a healthy immune system.

“Our results suggest that a healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19,” the researchers concluded.

Shane McAuliffe, deputy chair of the Nutrition and COVID-19 Taskforce for The Need for Nutrition Education/Innovation Programme (NNEdPro) UK think tank said: “The trends in this study are limited by study size (small numbers with a confirmed positive test) and design (self-reporting on diet and symptoms) so caution is needed in the interpretation of the findings.

“However, quality diet is important for mounting an adequate immune response, which in turn can influence susceptibility to infection and its severity.”

To read more about the latest COVID-19 science, be sure to check out our guide to the coronavirus vaccines and variants.

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