Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck a decidedly cautious tone in his press briefing on Monday, emphasising vigilance when the UK ends all remaining restrictions on July 19. The decision to lift restrictions across the board has met vociferous opposition in recent days. With the pandemic still raging, the British Medical Association has warned of “potentially devastating consequences” after the UK opens up, despite the succesful vaccine roll-out. Against this climate, finding ways to shield yourself against the virus is mission critical.
This includes “chowing down on more healthy plant-based whole foods – such as fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and pulses), seeds and whole grains”, said Leeming.
She continued: “It also includes eating oily fish and fewer highly processed foods.”
The dietary advice is based on findings that indicate adopting this dietary approach is associated with a lower risk from COVID-19.
Back in the autumn of 2020, the team behind the ZOE COVID Study app, which logs insights from millions of contributors – asked users to fill in a detailed diet questionnaire about the food they were eating before and during the pandemic.
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Together with our research colleagues at Harvard Medical School and King’s College London, the team analysed all the diet data and mapped it against COVID symptoms and positive tests reported in the app.
They discovered that people who eat a high quality, plant-rich diet are less likely to catch COVID-19 or end up in the hospital with it.
“This is the first time that diet has been shown to reduce the risk of developing the disease,” noted the researchers.
Rather than looking at specific foods or nutrients, the survey released through the app was designed to look at broader dietary patterns which are more reflective of how we actually eat.
Each person’s answers were compiled to produce a “diet quality score” that reflects the overall nutritional value of their typical diet.
Generally speaking, diets with high quality scores contain a larger amount of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and as well as oily fish, and fewer processed foods and refined carbohydrates.
What’s more, the team recently showed that people who eat a higher quality diet also have a healthier and more diverse collection of microbes in their guts.
“Eating this kind of ‘gut friendly’ diet is linked to a wide range of better health outcomes, including reduced inflammation and body fat, and improved blood fat and sugar levels,” they reported.
Crucially, the relationship between diet quality and COVID-19 risk was still there after accounting for age, body mass index (BMI), ethnicity, smoking, physical activity and underlying health conditions, as well as mask-wearing habits and population density.
What’s more, a smaller recent study showed that people who eat a plant-based or pescatarian diet (predominantly vegetarian but including fish and seafood) are less likely to become severely ill with COVID-19.
But the more recent study was the first to show that a higher quality diet actually reduces the chances of developing the disease in the first place.
It is still unknown exactly how diet helps to cut the risk from COVID-19, but study co-lead, Professor Andrew Chan MD, MPH from Massachusetts General Hospital, and professor at Harvard Medical School, suspected that inflammation may be playing a role.
He said: “Diet quality is an established risk factor for many conditions that are known to have an inflammatory basis. Our study demonstrates that this may also hold true for COVID-19, a virus which is known to provoke a severe inflammatory response.”