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Following a plant-based diet may reduce the risk and severity of COVID-19, study finds

People’s diets may play a role in their infection risk

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Photo (c) Vasyl Dolmatov - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital explored how people’s diets can impact their likelihood of contracting COVID-19 and the severity of their infections. 

The researchers' findings showed that eating a healthier, plant-based diet may be beneficial in reducing the risk and severity of COVID-19.

“Although we cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings, our study suggests that individuals can also potentially reduce their risk of getting COVID-19 or having poor outcomes by paying attention to their diet,” said researcher Andrew Chan, M.D.

The benefits of a healthy diet

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 600,000 participants enrolled in the COVID-19 Symptom Study. Participants answered questions about their diets at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, and the researchers tracked their health outcomes through the end of the year. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that following a healthier diet was associated with a lower risk of developing COVID-19 and a lower risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. In terms of severity, a healthy diet was linked with a 41% lower risk of having a severe case of COVID-19. 

“These findings were consistent across a range of sensitivity analysis accounting for other healthy behaviors, social determinants of health, and community virus transmission rates,” said researcher Jordi Merino, Ph.D. 

However, the researchers also learned that the combination of a poor diet and low socioeconomic status made the risk of COVID-19 much higher. 

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

Moving forward, the researchers hope that these findings make their way into the conversation about COVID-19 and more consumers understand the importance of both of these factors. 

“Our findings are a call to the government and stakeholders to prioritize healthy diets and well-being with impactful policies, otherwise we risk losing decades of economic progress and a substantial increase in health disparities,” Dr. Merino said. 

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