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Can Covid-19 really be beaten with a plant-based diet?

Despite a recent study published in ‘BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health’, scientists say they don’t have enough quality data to draw firm conclusions

Since the beginning of the pandemic, it’s been suggested that certain foods or diets may offer protection against Covid-19. But are these sorts of claims reliable?

recent study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health sought to test this hypothesis. It found that health professionals who reported following diets that are vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian (those that exclude meat but include fish) had a lower risk of developing moderate-to-severe Covid-19.

Additionally, the study found that those who said they eat a low-carbohydrate or high-protein diet seemed to have an increased risk of contracting moderate-to-severe Covid-19.

This may make it sound like certain food preferences – such as being vegetarian or a fish eater – may benefit you by reducing the risk of Covid-19. But in reality, things aren’t so clear.

Self-reporting and small samples

First, it’s important to underline that reported diet type didn’t influence the initial risk of contracting Covid-19. The study isn’t suggesting that diet changes the risk of getting infected. Nor did it find links between diet type and length of illness. Rather, the study only suggests that there’s a link between diet and the specific risk of developing moderate-to-severe Covid-19 symptoms.

It’s also important to consider the actual number of people involved. Just under 3,000 health professionals took part, spread across six western countries, and only 138 developed moderate-to-severe disease. As each person placed their diet into one of 11 categories, this left a very small number eating certain types of diet and then even smaller numbers getting seriously ill.

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