A trail-blazing study reveals a healthy plant-based diet slashes the risk of Covid-19 infection

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The biggest study to date investigating the link between diet and Covid-19 brought incredible results – having a healthy diet cuts the risk of infection but even if you do get infected, it makes you much less likely to suffer severe symptoms!


What did the study find?

The ZOE COVID Symptom Study included almost 600,000 participants, making it the largest to date examining the links between diet and Covid risk.

The results showed that people with the highest quality diet – a healthy plant-based diet – had a nine per cent lower risk of catching Covid and were 41 per cent less likely to suffer severe Covid than those with a poor quality diet. This healthy diet effect was independent of other known risk factors for Covid, such as age, weight and underlying health conditions.

This is major news as we have so far only seen diet lower the risk of severity of the disease – not actually lowering your risk of being infected in the first place.

The diet effect was even stronger in low-income areas – people with a low-quality diet living in impoverished conditions had a 39 per cent higher risk of Covid infection than those on the same diet in affluent areas. The study authors say that this may be, at least in part, caused by stress people in deprived areas face on a daily basis.


What do the researchers recommend?

In a video conference, the study authors discussed a number of things and offered their insights. When it comes to the question of vegan diet, they highlighted that while people on healthy vegan diets were best off, it’s crucial to have a healthy diet – not just vegan. Bear in mind, chips, chocolate and biscuits are vegan but hardly count as healthy! Centring your diet around unprocessed plant foods, such as wholegrains, pulses, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, is the best approach.

These foods are not just nutritious but also rich in fibre and so feed the good gut bacteria. Having the ‘right’ gut bacteria is important because they can support our immune system. On the other hand, ‘bad’ gut bacteria that thrive on a diet full of meat, fat and processed foods can undermine the immune system by making it fight the toxic by-products of these bacteria. You can boost the good gut bacteria by eating fibre-rich and fermented foods, such as plant yoghurt, tempeh, miso, kimchi or sauerkraut.

One of the authors also pointed out that it’s better to get nutrients from foods rather than supplements, as having a healthy diet supports your health much more than supplementing a bad diet with vitamins and minerals.

However, there are exceptions – we should all take vitamin D and B12 supplements as it’s difficult to obtain enough of these from foods or sun (vitamin D) alone. And it may be useful to take algae-based omega-3 supplement – plant foods, such as flaxseed, chia seeds or walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats but our bodies need to convert them into another form to use them. Luckily, there are tiny algae that contain the ‘right’ form of omega-3s that our bodies can use straight away – that’s where fish get their omega-3s from – so many omega-3 supplements are now made from them and widely available.


Has there been any other research to support this?

Yes! Another study came out just three weeks ago showing that a healthy plant-based diet can slash the risk of severe Covid symptoms by a massive 73 per cent.

At the same time, the study also found that people who ate low-carb, high-protein diets typically high in meat, eggs and fats, had an increased risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms. Compared to the plant-based people, they were almost four times more likely to have a moderate-to-severe form of the disease!

Moderate-to-severe symptoms mean breathing problems, fever, cough, low oxygen in the body and the need of medical help.

Read more about this study here.


Is this all new information?

While the ZOE COVID Symptom Study is the first one to show that a healthy vegan diet can lower your risk of infection with Covid-19, we’ve known for a while that a healthy diet can protect us from the severe form of the disease.

Viva!’s Slash the Risk campaign has been drawing attention to the major role a healthy vegan diet can play in the Covid fight since last year.

Vegans have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cancer – all of which are the main risk factors making Covid-19 more likely to result in severe, life-threatening disease.

This new study shows how powerful our diet and lifestyle can be – eating plants, avoiding ultra-processed foods and managing our stress levels makes us more resilient, healthier and stronger against infections!


About the author
Veronika Prošek Charvátová
Veronika Prošek Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

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