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Key Takeaways

  • Vegetarian diets appear to help people avoid COVID infection
  • People eating plant-based diets were 39% less likely to contract COVID
  • About 52% of meat-eaters became infected with COVID, compared with 40% of vegetarians/vegans

Vegetarian diets have been tied to a variety of health benefits – lower blood pressure, better blood sugar control and weight loss among them.

Now a new study suggests those benefits might even extend to a person’s ability to ward off COVID-19.

A predominantly plant-based diet is linked to 39% lower odds of contracting COVID, according to a report in BMJ Nutrition Prevention and Health.

“In light of these findings and the findings of other studies, and because of the importance of identifying factors that can influence the incidence of COVID-19, we recommend the practice of following plant-based diets or vegetarian dietary patterns,” concluded the research team led by Dr. Júlio César Acosta-Navarro, an assistant physician with the Hospital das Clinicas in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

For this study, researchers tracked more than 700 adult volunteers between March and July 2022.

The participants were surveyed on their diet, and divided into either omnivorous (both plant and animal products) or primarily plant-based dietary groups.

The plant-based diet group also was divided into flexitarians who ate meat three or fewer times a week, and vegetarians or vegans who don’t eat meat at all.

Of the total group, about 47% said they had a COVID infection, including 32% with mild symptoms and 15% with moderate to severe symptoms.

About 52% of meat-eaters became infected with COVID, compared with 40% of vegetarians/vegans.

Overall, people following a plant-based diet were 39% less likely to become infected with COVID.

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However, there was no difference in symptom severity between omnivores and vegetarians, after accounting for other potentially influential factors like weight, chronic health problems and physical activity levels.

Plant-based diets might provide more nutrients that boost the immune system and protect against viral infections, the researchers said.

“This research adds to the existing evidence, suggesting that diet may have a role in susceptibility to COVID-19 infection,” Shane McAuliffe, a senior visiting academic associate with the NNEdPro Global Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, said in a news release.

“But this remains an area of research that warrants more rigorous and high quality investigation before any firm conclusions can be drawn about whether particular dietary patterns increase the risk of COVID-19 infection,” added McAuliffe, who was not involved in the study.

More information

Rush University has more about vegetarian diets.