Covid update: The best diet to reduce risk of moderate-to-severe Covid infection – BMJ

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The variant of coronavirus first discovered in India is now running amok in the UK. It is estimated to be up to 60 percent more transmissible than the Kent strain of coronavirus, raising the spectre of a rise in hospital admissions. More than ever it is vital to shield yourself against COVID-19.

In addition to getting vaccinated, adhering to a specific dietary plan may help to strengthen the immune system.

“There is no single nutrient that will act as a magic bullet to protect people [from COVID-19],” said Philip Calder, a nutritional immunologist at the University of Southampton in the UK, in an interview with DW.

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However, research published last month suggests specific dietary approaches can mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

The key finding of a study published in the BMJ medical journal in May found that those who reported following plant-based diets and pescatarian diets (mainly plant-based with some seafood) were less likely to develop a moderate-to-severe Covid infection than people who did not follow these diets.

READ MORE: Delta variant symptoms: Two signs you may have caught the most dominant strain in the UK

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The conclusion was drawn from a study of 2,884 healthcare workers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US.

For people eating a “plant-based diet” there was a 73 percent lower chance of moderate-to-severe COVID, and for people who reported eating a “plant-based or pescatarian diet” the odds were 59 percent lower, compared with people who did not follow a plant-based or pescatarian diet.

People eating a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet were three times more likely to have a moderate-to-severe COVID infection, compared with those on plant-based diets.

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It is important to note that the study had some limitations.

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The scientists controlled for age, sex, ethnicity, medical specialty, body mass index, medical conditions, and lifestyle factors, but the vast majority of participants were men and 95 percent were doctors.

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The study also did not take into account other influencing factors, such as stress and sleep.

“There are lots of things that influence people’s immune system and diet is just one of them,” Calder said.

“It isn’t the be-all and end-all.”

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What’s more, of the 568 COVID cases in the study, only 298 had a positive PCR (tests mainly for people with symptoms that are sent to a lab to be checked) or antibody test.

The rest of the cases only had reported symptoms of COVID.

When the study was restricted to only those with positive tests, although the association was the same as the main results, the small sample size meant it was no longer significant.

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The researchers screened participants for substantial exposure to COVID-19, but were not able to control exactly how much exposure each healthcare worker had.

How to follow a plant-based diet

As the NHS explains, a plant-based diet can be very healthy, but your diet won’t automatically be healthier if you cut out meat.

You should include the following in your diet:

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  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates (choose wholegrain where possible)
  • Include some dairy or dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts (choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options)
  • Eat some beans, pulses, eggs and other proteins
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat them in small amounts
  • Drink plenty of fluids – the government recommends six to eight cups/glasses a day.

“If you choose foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar, have them less often and in small amounts,” advises the NHS.

It adds: “With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegetarian and vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy without the need for supplements.”

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