GREENWICH, Conn. — After more than a year of research into what makes some coronavirus patients sicker than others, could the answer come down to what they’re eating? A new study finds a healthy diet focusing on plant-based foods and fish may lower the odds of a severe COVID-19 infection.
Specifically, Dr. Sara Seidelmann from Stamford Hospital and her team say eating more greens can reduce the chances of developing moderate coronavirus symptoms by more than 70 percent. Plant-based or fish diets also cut the risk of severe symptoms by nearly 60 percent.
Several studies have suggested diet plays an important role when it comes to how badly COVID affects people, and for how long, but there is little evidence to support this. Now, researchers have found what foods dull the deadly virus and should therefore be on the menu.
“The trends in this study are limited by study size (small numbers with a confirmed positive test) and design (self-reporting on diet and symptoms) so caution is needed in the interpretation of the findings,” says Deputy Chair of the NNEdPro Nutrition and COVID-19 Taskforce, Shane McAuliffe, in a media release.
Did plant-based diets save hospital workers from COVID?
Study authors analyzed survey data from 2,884 frontline doctors and nurses heavily exposed to the virus while working in hospitals in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The team asked participants to provide detailed information about their dietary patterns in an online survey from July to September 2020.
Questions included whether they had experienced any COVID symptoms and how severe they had been, as well as inquiries into their backgrounds, medical histories, and lifestyles. Researchers divided diet information into different categories, including plant-based, plant-based with fish, and low carb-high protein diets.
Plant-based diets are typically higher in vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and lower in poultry and red or processed meats. Out of the 568 workers infected with COVID-19, 138 said they had experienced moderate or severe symptoms. However, those who followed a plant-based diet had 73 percent lower odds of a moderate infection.
Likewise, those primarily eating fish or plant-based foods were 59 percent less likely to end up with a severe case of the virus. Even when taking into account people’s weight and other health conditions, eating more vegetables helped tame COVID.
What makes fish and greens so healthy?
Dr. Seidelmann’s team notes men outnumbered women in the study, making it possible that the results may be less applicable to women. Despite this, they add plant-based diets are rich in nutrients, especially phytochemicals like polyphenols and carotenoids. These foods also contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, all of which are important for a healthy immune system.
Additionally, fish are an important source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which have vital anti-inflammatory properties. Replacing red meat with fruit and vegetables could therefore help protect those who are most at risk of ending up in the hospital with severe COVID symptoms.
“Our results suggest that a healthy diet rich in nutrient dense foods may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19,” study authors conclude.
The findings appear in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention and Health.
SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.