People who follow this diet are less likely to contract COVID-19 or become very unwell.
A recent study published in Gut that people with the highest quality diet were roughly 10% less likely to catch COVID-19 than those with the lowest quality diet, and 40% less likely to get seriously ill.
Researchers from King’s and Harvard Medical School examined data from approximately 600,000 ZOE COVID Study app contributors in their study. Participants completed a survey regarding the food they ate in February 2020 (before the pandemic), making it the largest study in this field. COVID-19 was contracted by 19% of these contributors.
Rather than focusing on individual foods or nutrients, the survey aimed to examine wider dietary patterns that represent how people actually consume. The survey generated a ‘diet quality score,’ which represented the overall worth of each person’s diet. Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as oily fish, less processed foods, and refined carbs, were found in diets with high-quality scores. A poor diet quality score is connected with a high intake of ultra processed foods and a low intake of plant-based foods.
The researchers discovered that persons who ate the most nutritious food were roughly 10% less likely to get COVID-19 than those who ate the least nutritious diet, and 40% less likely to become extremely unwell if they did develop COVID-19.
After controlling for all relevant confounding factors, the association between food quality and COVID-19 risk maintained. Age, BMI, ethnicity, smoking, physical activity, and underlying health issues were all factors. Mask-wearing habits and population density were also taken into account.
The impact of diet was amplified by individual life situations, with people living in low-income neighbourhoods and having the lowest quality diet being around 25% more at risk from COVID-19 than people in more affluent communities who were eating in the same way.
Based on these results, the researchers estimate that nearly a quarter of COVID-19 cases could have been prevented if these differences in diet quality and socioeconomic status had not existed.
This further highlights that improved access to nutritious, healthier food could be substantive for bettering public health, especially among the underprivileged members of the community.
“For the first time we’ve been able to show that a healthier diet can cut the chances of developing COVID-19, especially for people living in the more deprived areas. Access to healthier food is important to everyone in society, but our findings tell us that helping those living in more deprived areas to eat more healthily could have the biggest public health benefits,” said Dr Sarah Berry, study co-lead and Reader in nutritional sciences at the School of Life Course Sciences.
Professor Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at the School of Life Course Sciences, said: “These findings chime with recent results from our landmark PREDICT study, showing that people who eat higher quality diets (with low levels of ultra-processed foods) have a healthier collection of microbes in their guts, which is linked to better health. You don’t have to go vegan, but getting more diverse plants on your plate is a great way to boost the health of your gut microbiome, improve your immunity and overall health, and potentially reduce your risk from COVID-19.”
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