Individuals who follow a plant-based diet are 73 percent less likely to experience moderate-to-severe COVID-19 symptoms, according to a new study published by scientific journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health. The study involved 2,884 frontline healthcare workers from six countries—including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States—568 of whom were infected with COVID-19. The aim of the study was to investigate the association between dietary patterns and COVID-19, including severity of symptoms and duration of illness. 

Between July and September 2020, the participants provided information on demographic characteristics, medical history, lifestyle, and COVID-19 symptoms, and a 47-item food frequency questionnaire. Participants had 11 choices: whole foods, plant-based diet; keto diet; vegetarian diet; Mediterranean diet; pescatarian diet; Palaeolithic diet; low-fat diet; low-carbohydrate diet; high-protein diet; other; or none of the above. 

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Study findings

Among the 568 cases, 138 individuals had moderate-to-severe COVID-19 severity and 430 individuals had very mild to mild COVID-19 severity. Participants who reported following plant-based diets, including a vegetarian diet, had 73 percent lower odds of moderate-to-severe symptoms, and those who reported following a pescatarian diet had 59 percent lower odds, compared to those who did not follow those diets. Compared with participants who reported following plant-based diets, those who reported following low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, such as keto or paleo, which are typically high in animal-based protein, were almost four times more likely to experience a moderate-to-severe form of COVID-19.

Among COVID-19 cases, individuals who reported following plant-based diets consumed more vegetables, fruit, and plant proteins such as legumes and nuts. The study authors explained that these foods supply important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support the immune system and lower the risk of respiratory infections. “In six countries, plant-based diets or pescatarian diets were associated with lower odds of moderate-to-severe COVID-19. These dietary patterns may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19,” the study concluded.

Plant-based diets support immune function

Though healthcare workers and other individuals are being, or already have, been vaccinated in many countries currently, the emergence of new variants and challenges in accessing COVID-19 vaccines globally is important to consider, so understanding the risk factors associated with virus susceptibility in individuals could help the development of supportive strategies for protecting workers now and in the future. 

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