A study claims that a predominantly plant-based or vegetarian diet with a higher intake of vegetables, legumes, nuts has a 39 percent lower chance of contracting Covid-19. Researchers at the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil also claim that a diet low in dairy and meat can help ward off infections.
“Plant-based food patterns are rich in antioxidants, phytosterols and polyphenols, which positively affect various cell types involved in immune function and exhibit direct antiviral properties,” the team wrote in the study, published in the open access journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention Health.
In the study, the team set out to assess the potential impact of dietary patterns on the incidence, severity and duration of Covid-19 infection in 702 adult volunteers, all of whom were recruited between March and July 2022. They were classified as either omnivores. (424) or predominantly plant-based (278) dietary groups.
The plant-based diet group was further divided into vegetarians/semi-vegetarians who ate meat three times a week or less (87); and vegetarians and vegans (191).
Omnivores reported higher medical conditions and lower rates of physical activity. And the prevalence of overweight and obesity was significantly higher among omnivores — all factors associated with higher Covid-19 infection risk and more severe symptoms/complications.
In all, 330 people (47 percent) said they had a Covid-19 infection. Of these, 224 (32 percent) said they had mild symptoms and 106 (15 percent) had moderate to severe symptoms.
Omnivores reported a significantly higher incidence of Covid-19 than the plant-based dietary group: 52 percent versus 40 percent. And they were more likely to have moderate to severe infections: 18 percent versus just over 11 percent.
There was no difference in how long symptoms lasted, the researchers said.
But those following a predominantly plant-based or vegetarian/vegan diet were 39 percent less likely to be infected than omnivores.
It may be that predominantly plant-based foods provide more nutrients that boost immunity and help fight viral infections, they suggest, explaining their findings.
The team noted that “this is an observational study, however, and as such, cannot establish causation”. The researchers acknowledge that the study relies on individual recall and subjective assessment, both of which are prone to error.
Still, “in light of these findings and those of other studies, and because of the importance of identifying factors that may influence the incidence of Covid-19, we recommend the practice of following a plant-based diet or a vegetarian diet,” they said.