Plant-based diets linked to 73% lower risk of severe Covid-19, new global study finds

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A new study of frontline healthcare workers in six countries shows an association between plant-based diets and a reduced risk of developing moderate or severe Covid-19. The study also found lower odds with pescatarian diets, although to a lesser extent compared to vegans, suggesting there may be a link between symptom severity and food choices.

Researchers in a new study published in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health have found that plant-based or fish-based diets can help reduce the severity of Covid-19 infection. The study covered more than 2,800 healthcare professionals in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States who were part of the Survey Healthcare Globus network.

Plant-based diets were associated with a 73% reduction in the incidence of moderate to severe Covid-19 disease, while pescatarian diets were linked with a 59% reduction.

Interestingly, the study also showed that those who practice a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein had almost four times the risk of moderate to severe Covid-19 infection.

These results were based on an online survey conducted between July and September 2020, which questioned the eating frequency of respondents with 47 different items and the severity of infections they had experienced using objective criteria.

The study involved frontline doctors and nurses in six countries. (Image: Getty)

It also collected data on participants’ personal history, medical history, medication use, and lifestyle, such as physical activity levels and smoking habits, to account for other confounding factors. . The results were found to be true after taking into account BMI and coexisting medical conditions.

More importantly, the association is focused on the risk of developing severe symptoms after contracting Covid-19, rather than the direct risk of contracting the disease itself or the duration of the subsequent illness.

The researchers believe that the correlation could be explained by the likelihood that plant-based diets are richer in nutrients, especially phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals that can be found in fruits and vegetables and which are related to building 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,” concluded the team of researchers from several universities and research institutes across the United States. , including Johns Hopkins University, Envision Health Partners, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Stamford Hospital, among others.

Commenting on the results, Professor Gunter Kuhnle of the University of Reading, who was not involved in the research, mentionned: “Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a lot of speculation about the impact of diet on the risk of disease.”

Plant-based diets were correlated with a lower incidence of moderate to severe Covid-19, according to the observational study. (Image: Tofurky)

While noting that caution should be exercised in interpreting observational and self-reported data, Dr Kuhnle stressed that the results were “not surprising” given that “People who follow a predominantly plant-based diet or eat fish are often healthier compared to a control group with a ‘normal’ diet.”

“An interesting – and to some surprising – finding is the higher risk in those who follow a low-carb diet,” Dr Kuhnle continued. “The same limitations as above apply of course – and there are very different interpretations of ‘low carb’, but the data suggests that those on such a diet have a higher risk of Covid-19. ”

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Other experts who were not affiliated with the study sharing their views with Medical News Center expressed similar concerns about drawing conclusions about a strong link between eating habits and the risk of Covid-19 severity, but pointed out that there is a bed of research to support that plant-based diets are associated with better overall health.

“Diets based on high levels of plant foods and low levels of meat are associated with lower risks of several non-infectious diseases, including cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer,” said Dr. Ian Johnson, researcher in nutrition, from the Quadram Institute Bioscience.

Main image courtesy of Mindful Chef.

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