TUESDAY, Sept. 14, 2021 (HealthDay News) — People who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables may have a somewhat lower risk of COVID-19 than those with unhealthy diets, a new study suggests.
Of more than 590,000 adults surveyed, researchers found that the quarter with the most plant-rich diets had a 9% lower risk of developing COVID-19 than the quarter with the least-healthy diets.
Their risk of severe COVID-19, meanwhile, was 41% lower, according to findings recently published online in the journal Gut.
Experts were quick to stress that healthy eating is no magic immune-booster that will ward off COVID-19.
“This doesn’t change anything. Get vaccinated,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, an infectious disease specialist and spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Jordi Merino, the lead researcher on the study, agreed that no one should consider diet a replacement for vaccination or other measures, like wearing a mask.
Instead, the findings suggest that poor diet quality may be one of the social and economic contributors to COVID-19 risk.
So making healthy foods more accessible to low-income Americans could be one way to help ease the burden of the pandemic, according to Merino, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The findings are based on over 592,000 U.S. and British adults who were part of a smartphone survey. They reported on any COVID-19 symptoms they developed and whether they’d tested positive for the disease. They also completed a diet questionnaire asking about their intake of various foods during a typical week.
Merino’s team divided participants into four groups based on their intake of plant foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and vegetable oils.
During the study period, there were 31,815 documented cases of COVID-19.
On average, the researchers found, the one-quarter of participants with the most plant-rich diets were slightly less likely to develop COVID-19 than the quarter with diets devoid of fruits and vegetables.
And when they did get sick, their risk of severe COVID (requiring hospitalization and oxygen) was 41% lower. In absolute terms, the rate of severe COVID-19 was 1.6 per 10,000 people per month in the group with the healthiest diets; in the group with the poorest diets, the rate was 2.1 per 10,000 each month.