People on meat-free diets had lower odds of contracting moderate to severe COVID-19, according to a six-country study published this week in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.
Plant-based diets were tied to a 73% lower risk of severe disease, researchers found in a survey of 2,884 healthcare providers who cared for COVID-19 patients.
Combining those on a plant-based diet and people who also ate fish but no meat, researchers found 59% lower odds of severe disease.
The study cannot prove that specific diets protected against severe COVID-19, and diet did not appear to lower the risk of becoming infected.
But plant-based diets are rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are important for healthy immune systems, the researchers noted, and fish provide vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Healthy eating, however, has been problematic during the pandemic, according to two presentations this week during a virtual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.
Consumption of healthy foods such as vegetables and whole grains declined, according to researchers who compared the diets of more than 2,000 Americans before and during the pandemic.
In a separate study, researchers who collected dietary data in June 2020 for 3,916 U.S. adults found many had increased their consumption of unhealthy snacks, desserts and sugary drinks during the pandemic.