Diet is key to Covid recovery. Picture: Heather-ford / Unsplash
Diet is key to Covid recovery. Picture: Heather-ford / Unsplash

Your diet could reduce your chances of severe Covid symptoms by 73%

By Supplied Time of article published Sep 17, 2021

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New research published in the British Medical Journal - Nutrition, Prevention & Health confirms the suspected link between Covid-19 symptoms and dietary choices.

Researchers performed a Covid-19 case-control study of frontline healthcare workers (HCWs) in six countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, USA), enrolling physicians and nurses with a high frequency of exposure to patients with Covid-19. 2,884 HCWs were included in the study, which specifically investigated the link between dietary patterns and Covid-19.

Some of the findings from the study include: “Following a plant-based diet decreases chances of experiencing severe Covid-19 symptoms by 73%.”

Compared with those who followed plant-based diets, those who followed low carbohydrate, high protein diets had >3-fold higher odds of moderate-to-severe Covid-19.

No association was observed between diet and Covid-19 infection or duration.

Although this is the first large study specifically looking at the link between Covid-19 and dietary choices, epidemiological studies have shown that fruit and vegetable intake is associated with a lower risk of upper respiratory tract infection such as cold, influenza, or sinusitis and that there is a link between diet and comorbidities like obesity, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and hypertension, which are risks for severe Covid-19 symptoms.

According to registered Dietitian Michelle Zietsman: "This research is in line with what we would expect. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fibre, contributing to good gut health, which plays an important role in supporting the immune system. They are also abundant in phytochemicals, which have significant physiological effects in the body and can suppress the development of disease. Fibre and phytochemicals are exclusively found in whole plant-based foods.”

The researchers do point out that plant-based diets tend to be nutrient-rich, and specifically include high amounts of phytochemicals (polyphenols, carotenoids), and higher levels of fibre, vitamins A, C, and E, folate, iron, potassium, magnesium intake in those following a plant-based diet, and that some of these nutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of respiratory, such as the common cold and pneumonia, and shortened the duration of these illnesses.

A large body of evidence shows that the link between diet and Covid-19 goes much further than just symptoms. Reports published by ProVeg International 9, WWF 10 and the University of Cambridge11 explain that zoonotic diseases, including coronaviruses, account for 75% of all new emerging diseases and that large-scale farming of animals for food and the consumption of wild animals greatly increase the risk of pandemics starting in the first place.

Professor Andrew Robinson, Deputy Dean at the North-West University Health Science Faculty, and Co-founder of the Physicians Association for Nutrition South Africa sees a move towards a more plant-based food system as an important part of an effective pandemic strategy: “The research indicates that the most effective way to mitigate the risk of future pandemics, as well as the risk of suffering severe symptoms associated with the current pandemic is a significant change to our food system - moving away from our dependence on industrial animal agriculture and fishing, and increase the amount of plant-based foods we produce and consume.”

Dr Nanine Wyma, the Programmes Manager at food awareness NGO ProVeg South Africa, is urging the government and the medical community to review the research on the links between the food we eat and pandemics, and to help disseminate this information to the public: “This kind of research highlights that there are multiple ways that we can build resilience to severe illness. There should be an equal effort in raising awareness and creating access to nutrition related lifestyle modifications that may reduce the risk of both severe disease and future pandemics.”

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