Healthy Plant-Based Foods May Reduce Risk and Severity of COVID-19

Although metabolic conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes have been linked to an increased risk of COVID-19, as well as an increased risk of developing severe symptoms once infected, the impact of diet about these risks is unknown.

In a recent study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and published in Gut, people whose diets were based on healthy, plant-based foods had lower risks in both cases. The beneficial effects of diet on the risk of COVID-19 seemed particularly relevant in people living in areas of high socio-economic deprivation.

“Previous reports suggest that poor nutrition is a common feature among groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic, but data on the association between diet and the risk and severity of COVID-19 is lacking,” says senior author Jordi Merino, PhD, associate researcher in the Diabetes Unit and Center for Genomic Medicine at the MGH and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

For the study, Merino and colleagues looked at data from 592,571 participants in the smartphone-based COVID-19 symptom study. The participants lived in the United Kingdom and the United States, and they were recruited from March 24, 2020 and followed until December 2, 2020. At the start of the study, participants filled out a questionnaire about their eating habits. before the pandemic. The quality of the diet was assessed using a healthy diet score that emphasizes healthy plant foods such as fruits and vegetables.

During follow-up, 31,831 participants developed COVID-19. Compared to individuals in the lowest quartile of the diet score, those in the highest quartile had a 9% lower risk of developing COVID-19 and a 41% lower risk of developing severe COVID-19. “These results were consistent across a range of sensitivity analyzes taking into account other healthy behaviors, social determinants of health, and rates of transmission of the virus in the community,” Merino explains.

While we cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in crowded indoor environments, our study suggests that individuals can also potentially reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19 or of having COVID-19. poor results by paying attention to their diet. “

Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, lead study co-author, gastroenterologist and head of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital

The researchers also found a synergistic relationship between a poor diet and increased socio-economic deprivation with the risk of COVID-19 which was greater than the sum of the risks associated with each factor alone.

“Our models estimate that nearly a third of COVID-19 cases would have been prevented if one of the two exposures – diet or deprivation – had not been present,” Merino explains.

The results also suggest that public health strategies that improve access to healthy food and address the social determinants of health may help reduce the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our results are a call to governments and stakeholders to prioritize healthy diets and well-being with hard-hitting policies, otherwise we risk losing decades of economic progress and a substantial increase in disparities. health matters, ”Merino said.


Massachusetts General Hospital

Journal reference:

Merino, J., et al. (2021) Diet quality and the risk and severity of COVID-19: a prospective cohort study. Intestine.

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