Vegans are less likely to catch COVID-19, according to a new study. Researchers found that people who stick to a predominantly plant-based or vegetarian diet are at a 39 percent lower risk of being infected by the potentially deadly virus.
They say their findings, published in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health suggest that a diet high in vegetables, legumes, and nuts, while low in dairy products and meat may help to ward off COVID.
Several previous studies have suggested that diet may play an important role in the evolution of COVID-19 infection, as well as in the factors that heighten the risk of its associated complications.
The Brazilian research team set out to evaluate the potential impact of dietary patterns on the incidence, severity, and duration of COVID-19 infection among 702 adult volunteers.
Participants were surveyed on their usual eating patterns as well as lifestyle and medical history, including vaccination against COVID-19.
They were then divided into either omnivorous (424) or predominantly plant-based (278) dietary groups.
The plant-based food group was further divided into flexitarians, or semi-vegetarians, who ate meat three or fewer times a week (87); and vegetarians plus vegans (191).
Those who reported following predominantly plant-based or vegetarian diets routinely ate more vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and less or no dairy and meat. The research team said there were no significant differences in sex, age, or vaccination uptake between the omnivores and plant-based groups.
But a “significantly” higher number of people had been educated to postgraduate degree level among the plant-based groups. The omnivores also reported a higher rate of medical conditions and lower rates of physical activity.
More of the omnivores were also overweight or obese – all factors associated with higher COVID-19 infection risk and more severe complications.
In all, 330 participants (47 percent) said that they’d had COVID. Of these, 224 (32 percent) said they had mild symptoms and 106 (15 percent) had moderate to severe symptoms. The omnivores had a “significantly” higher reported incidence of COVID-19 (52 percent) than the plant-based dietary groups (40 percent), and they were more likely to have had moderate to severe infection.
There was no difference between the food groups in how long symptoms lasted. After accounting for potentially influential factors – such as weight, pre-existing medical conditions, and physical activity levels, the research team said there was no overall difference in symptom severity between the omnivores and the plant-based dietary groups.
However, those following a predominantly plant-based vegetarian or vegan diet were 39 percent less likely to become infected than the omnivores.
The researchers say it may be that predominantly plant-based diets provide more nutrients that boost the immune system and help to fight viral infections. “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,” said study author Dr. Júlio César Acosta-Navarro.
He 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.”
“This research adds to the existing evidence, suggesting that diet may have a role in susceptibility to COVID-19 infection,” said Shane McAuliffe, of NNEdPro Global Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, which co-owns BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health
“But this remains an area of research that warrants more rigorous and high-quality investigation before any firm conclusions can be drawn about whether particular dietary patterns increase the risk of COVID-19 infection.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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