A new study led by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has found that nutritious, plant-based diets may decrease the risk of developing severe COVID-19 infections. The experts grounded their arguments both on recent studies on healthy nutrition and lessons learned from the 1918 flu pandemic, during which individuals following healthier diets had lower chances of developing severe influenza.
“In looking for solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, we found important lessons in the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 1918–1919,” said study lead author Hana Kahleova, the director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee. “During that pandemic, the best outcomes were reported by a Seventh-day Adventist seminary, where a plant-based diet of grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables was provided.”
According to Dr. Kahleova and her colleagues, plant-based foods are rich in nitrates and antioxidants, which lead to better heart health and improved immunity against respiratory infections. A previous clinical study conducted by Dr. Kahleova’s team has revealed that plant-based diets significantly helped hospital workers in Washington, D.C. to improve their cardiometabolic outcomes and quality of life at the height of the first wave COVID-19 surge in the first half of 2020.
These findings were confirmed by several other studies. For instance, in an article published in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention, and Health, scientists have found that, among health care workers who were frequently exposed to SARS-CoV-2, those who reported being on a plant-based diet had a 73 percent lower risk of developing moderate-to-severe forms of COVID-19. Similarly, a study with over half a million participants conducted by Harvard University has shown that people with a high consumption of fruits and vegetables had a reduced risk of COVID-19 of any severity by nine percent, and a reduced risk of severe infections by 41 percent.
“Based on the lessons from 1918 and the recent nutrition research in COVID-19, it seems probable that a healthful plant-based diet is a powerful tool to decrease the risk of severe COVID-19. For this reason, plant-based nutrition should be promoted as one of the key public health measures in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and fighting today’s pandemic,” concluded Dr. Kahleova.
The study is published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.