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Vegetarians and pescatarians are up to 73% less likely to develop severe Covid-19

Eating a vegetarian or pescatarian diet reduces your risk of developing severe Covid-19 when compared to people who eat meat, according to a new study.

Plant-based vegetarian diets reduce the risk of moderate to severe Covid-19 by up to 73 per cent and a fish-based pescatarian diet reduces the risk by 59 per cent.

Previous studies have shown a link between diet and the severity and duration of a Covid-19 infection, which the team wanted to examine in more detail.

Drawing on a survey of 2,884 frontline doctors and nurses exposed to the virus between July and September 2020, the team from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland looked into diet and Covid-19 severity. 

The survey asked about diet, medical history and instances of Covid-19, revealing the notable link between avoiding meat and reducing the risk of severe coronavirus. 

As it was a self-reported observational study they couldn’t say why this was the case, but suspected it may be due to increased vitamins, nutrients and minerals in a plant-based diet that are vital for a healthy immune system.

Eating a vegetarian or pescatarian diet reduces your risk of developing severe Covid-19 when compared to people who eat meat, according to a new study. Stock image

VEGETARIAN DIETS CAN LOWER YOUR CHOLESTEROL 

Plant-based diets really do lower cholesterol, according to a review of nearly 50 studies.

Vegetarians generally eat more greens, fruits and nuts which means they have a lower intake of saturated fat, researchers found.

These foods are naturally rich in components such as soluble fibre, soy protein, and plant sterols (a cholesterol found in plants), all of which lower cholesterol. 

The research, led by Dr Yoko Yokoyama, from Keio University in Fujisawa, found vegetarians had 29.2 milligrams less of total cholesterol per decilitre (one tenth of a litre) than meat-eaters. 

Volunteers involved in the survey faced extensive exposure to SARS-CO-v2, the virus responsible for Covid-19 infection throughout the pandemic.

They were working in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US last summer  and were all part of the Survey Healthcare Globus market research network. 

The researchers used this network to identify medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, at high risk of COVID-19 infection as a result of their jobs. 

The survey also gathered information on personal background, medical history, medication use, and lifestyle.

They explored three diets: plant-based that was higher in vegetables than meat, pescatarian that was high in vegetable and fish, and a low carb-high protein diet. 

Of the volunteers involved in the survey, 568 said they had Covid-19 symptoms or no symptoms but had positive swab test for the infection, and another 2,316 said they hadn’t had any symptoms or tested positive.

Among the 568 cases, 138 clinicians said they had a moderate to severe Covid-19 infection and the remaining 430 said they had a very mild to mild infection.

The team then factored in several influential variables, including age, ethnicity, medical specialty, and lifestyle factors, such as smoking and physical activity levels

They found that those taking part in the survey who eat a plant or fish-based diet had significantly lower odds than meat eaters of developing a severe strain of Covid.

In comparison, those who eat a low carb-high protein diet had four times the odds of developing a moderate to severe infection than plant-eaters. 

This means that eating a plant-based, vegetarian diet increases your odds of avoiding a severe dose of Covid-19 if you become infected, they found. 

These associations held true when weight (BMI) and co-existing medical conditions were also factored in.

Plant-based vegetarian diets reduce the risk of moderate to severe Covid-19 by up to 73 per cent and a fish-based pescatarian diet reduces the risk by 59 per cent. Stock image

Plant-based vegetarian diets reduce the risk of moderate to severe Covid-19 by up to 73 per cent and a fish-based pescatarian diet reduces the risk by 59 per cent. Stock image

But no association was observed between any type of diet and the risk of contracting Covid-19 infection or length of the subsequent illness. 

There were a number of issues with the study, the team explained, including the fact men outnumbered women, so the findings may not be applicable to women. 

This was also an observational study, and so can’t establish cause, only correlation. 

It also relied on individual recall rather than on objective assessments, and the definition of certain dietary patterns may vary by country, point out the researchers. 

‘Our results suggest that a healthy diet rich in nutrient dense foods may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19,’ they conclude.

Previous studies have shown a link between diet and the severity and duration of a Covid-19 infection, which the team wanted to examine in more detail. Stock image

Previous studies have shown a link between diet and the severity and duration of a Covid-19 infection, which the team wanted to examine in more detail. Stock image

‘The trends in this study are limited by study size so caution is needed in the interpretation of the findings,’ said Deputy Chair of the NNEdPro Nutrition and COVID-19 Taskforce, Shane McAuliffe.

‘However, a high quality diet is important for mounting an adequate immune response, which in turn can influence susceptibility to infection and its severity.’

He adds: ‘This study highlights the need for better designed prospective studies on the association between diet, nutritional status and COVID-19 outcomes.’

The findings have been published in the BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health journal. 

WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count

• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain

• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on

• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options

• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)

• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts

• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day

• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day

Source: NHS Eatwell Guide 

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