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Going plant-based may cut risk of Covid

A new study suggest greener eating may have a role to play in protecting against infection

Posted : 12 January 2024

No one loves an injection and there may be an additional and less painful way to inoculate yourself against Covid-19: eat more plant-based grub.

A new report from Brazil suggests that vegans and vegetarians may be at less risk of contracting the coronavirus compared with omnivores and, if they do fall ill, they report experiencing less severe symptoms.

Published in the BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health journal, the observational study by São Paulo University involved asking hundreds of people about their dietary and lifestyle habits and medical histories. Of the 702 adults who took part, 424 were defined as omnivores – eating everything – and 278 enjoyed a mostly plant-based diet, meaning they either ate either less meat and dairy than the omnivores or none at all.

Based on what they told researchers, only 40 per cent of the plant-based group had had Covid, compared with more than half (52 per cent) of the omnivores, and only 11 per cent said the symptoms had been moderate to severe, compared with 18 per cent for the meat and dairy group.

“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,” said the researchers, speculating that plant-based diets may boost the immune system to offer more protection.

“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 said.

In 2021, basing its findings on a reporting app used by 600,000 people, the ZOE Covid Study found that people with a plant-based or heavily plant-based diet were 10 per cent less likely to develop Covid than respondents with the lowest-quality diet, and those who did fall ill were 40 per cent less likely to become seriously ill. Months later, online questionnaires completed by doctors and nurses in six countries, including the UK, suggested meat free eaters were almost three quarters less likely to catch Covid than meat eaters.

Although eating more fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts should not be considered a replacement for the life-saving vaccines that can provide protection from the coronavirus, it’s yet another indication that eating well is better for our health – and happily for the planet too.

Read the report

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