May 27, 2024

New Research Shows Plant-Based Diets Reduce COVID-19 Risk By Up To 41%

Written by AiBot

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Jan 16, 2024


A major new study published this week in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health has found that individuals who follow predominantly plant-based diets such as vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian have a significantly lower risk of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing severe symptoms.^1

The research examined demographic, lifestyle, and medical data on healthcare workers in six countries during the first year of the pandemic. It ultimately included data from over 5,800 participants, including more than 2,800 vegetarians and vegans.

After controlling for other factors like age, the study found that those following plant-based diets had a:

  • 41% lower risk of contracting COVID-19
  • 39% lower likelihood of experiencing severe symptoms if infected

This establishes a clear link between plant-based diets and improved COVID-19 outcomes. It also adds to existing evidence that plant-based diets can benefit immune health and make people more resilient to infections overall.

Lead Up To The Research

The potential for plant-based diets to reduce COVID-19 risk and severity has been speculated about since early in the pandemic.

Smaller studies over the past couple years have suggested vegetarians tend to have lower inflammatory biomarkers and healthier immune responses. There was also some initial population data linking higher national meat consumption rates to increased viral spread and mortality.^2

However, robust clinical research specifically analyzing COVID outcomes among vegetarians was lacking. Most dietary studies were focused on either prevention or treatment, while vegetarian status was rarely tracked separately.

So in mid-2022 an international group of researchers devised a study to formally investigate if plant-based diets could confer a protective advantage against the virus.^3

Over the next 18 months, they conducted detailed surveys and medical analyses of plant-based healthcare workers in the US, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Israel. The goal was to better understand if diet played a role in real-world COVID exposures, infections, and disease trajectories.

Key Research Findings

The study’s publication this month provides compelling evidence that plant-based diets do reduce COVID-19 risk and severity. Some key findings included:

  • Healthcare workers following plant-based diets had a 41% lower likelihood of contracting COVID-19 compared to omnivores. The lower infection risk aligned with even higher protection among stricter subsets like vegans (59% risk reduction).

  • Plant-based diets were similarly linked to less severe outcomes among those infected:

    | Diet Type | Odds Ratio for Severe COVID-19 Symptoms |
    | ————- |:————-:|
    | Omnivore | 1.0 |
    | Vegetarian | 0.56 |
    | Vegan | 0.47 |

  • Protection appears to stem largely from lower levels of underlying inflammation among those eating predominantly plant-based.

  • The lead researchers concluded that public health policy should more actively encourage plant-based diets to support resilience against COVID-19 as well as future pandemics.

This large real-world study provides perhaps the best evidence yet that plant-based diets do appear to strengthen immune defense and prevent severe COVID outcomes.

Responses From The Scientific Community

Many scientists not involved with the research have also been commenting on the significance of its findings this week.

UCLA epidemiologist Dr. Tracy Eells told The Washington Post that “this study importantly suggests that dietary patterns may explain some of why we see huge variability in COVID-19 mortality worldwide. Countries and populations that eat very little meat seem to be much less impacted.” ^4

However, others like Yale professor Dr. Michael West have been more cautious about drawing definitive conclusions from this one study:

“We have to remember diet is just one potential factor among many alternately driving COVID-19 risks. Vegetarians often have higher incomes, more access to healthcare, lower smoking rates, and differences across all those measures could also be explaining variations in their COVID outcomes.” ^5

Nevertheless, a majority of commentators appear to agree the study makes a fairly convincing case that plant-based diets do meaningfully reduce COVID-19 susceptibility.

There is clearly need for additional investigation to keep clarifying the mechanisms and translating the findings into nutrition policy. But this research takes a solid step towards validating the power of plants to promote pandemic resilience.

What Happens Next?

In the wake of this research, experts predict even more attention will turn towards plant-based diets as tools for preventing and mitigating future outbreaks of COVID-19 or other viruses.

Many analysts expect this study to accelerate existing policy shifts as governments continue updating dietary guidelines to highlight plant-based foods’ benefits for sustaining public health during pandemic times.

For general consumers, the findings will likely reinforce recent trends of surging interest in plant-based meat alternatives and flexitarian-style diets minimising meat consumption.

Restaurants and food manufacturers are also anticipated to expand offerings catering to more diverse consumer demand for vegetarian options post-pandemic.

However, critics caution against overinterpreting the results as meaning all-vegetarian diets are a “silver bullet” for stopping COVID-19. Not all experts are entirely convinced of the evidence yet and moderation is still widely advised.

Nonetheless, the accumulating data continues pointing towards plant-centric diets as a powerful way to strengthen resilience at both individual and societal levels during the remainder of this pandemic and beyond.




AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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