Plant-based or vegetarian diet linked to reduced risk of Covid-19 infection

Eating a predominantly plant-based or vegetarian diet is linked to 39% lower odds of being infected with Covid-19, according to researchers in Brazil.

Based on their findings, they suggested that a diet high in vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and low in dairy products and meat may help to ward off the coronavirus infection.

“Plant-based dietary patterns are rich in antioxidants, phytosterols and polyphenols”

Study authors

They noted that several previous studies have suggested that diet may have an important role in the evolution of Covid-19 infection, as well as in factors that heighten the risk of complications.

As a result, they set out to evaluate the potential impact of dietary patterns on the incidence, severity, and duration of Covid-19 infection.

Their study, published in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, included 702 adult volunteers all of whom were recruited between March and July 2022.

Participants were surveyed on their usual eating patterns and food group frequency, as well as lifestyle and medical history, including vaccination against Covid-19.

They were then divided into either omnivorous or predominantly plant-based dietary groups.

The plant-based food group was further divided into flexitarians and semi-vegetarians who ate meat three or fewer times a week, and vegetarians and vegans.

Those who reported following predominantly plant-based or vegetarian diets routinely ate more vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and ate less dairy and meat, or none at all.

There were no significant differences in sex, age, or vaccination uptake between the omnivores and plant-based groups, according to the researchers.

However, noted that a significantly higher number of people had been educated to postgraduate degree level in the plant-based groups.

In addition, they highlighted that the omnivores reported a higher rate of medical conditions and lower rates of physical activity.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity was also significantly higher among the omnivores—all factors associated with higher Covid-19 infection risk and more severe symptoms or complications.

In all, 47% of participants said that they had had Covid-19 infection. Of those who reported having Covid-19, 32% said they had mild symptoms and 15% had moderate to severe symptoms.

The study found the omnivores had a significantly higher reported incidence of Covid-19 than the plant-based dietary groups – 52% versus 40%.

They were more likely to have had moderate to severe infection – 18% versus just over 11%, according to the study led by researchers from the University of Sao Paolo.

There was no difference between the omnivores and the plant-based dietary groups in how long symptoms lasted or their severity, said the study authors.

However, they said that those following a predominantly plant-based or vegetarian or vegan diet were 39% less likely to become infected than the omnivores.

As an explanation for their findings, they suggested that predominantly plant-based diets provide more nutrients that boost the immune system and help to fight viral infections.

They stated: “Plant-based dietary patterns are rich in antioxidants, phytosterols and polyphenols, which positively affect several cell types implicated in the immune function and exhibit direct antiviral properties.”

They added: “In light of these findings and the findings of other studies, and because of the importance of identifying factors that can influence the incidence of Covid-19, we recommend the practice of following plant-based diets or vegetarian dietary patterns.”

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