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Can a Plant-Based Diet Mitigate the Risk of Severe COVID-19?

 

A recent article by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (EJCN) considers the connection between COVID-19 and a plant-based diet.

While the vaccination and booster shots have helped to protect many against COVID-19, the United States lags far behind vaccination rates in other countries. As a result, the coronavirus is killing more Americans than others in high-income countries. Many people in the U.S. are still unvaccinated compared to those in countries like Belgium, Great Britain, and Germany leaving more people vulnerable to the virus and its variants.  

In addition to vaccination efforts, the EJCN also suggests looking at preventive action. Prior health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, tobacco use, and other chronic diseases make someone more at risk for the virus and lower the effectiveness of the vaccine. The U.S. has the highest chronic disease burden and an obesity rate that is two times higher than the OECD average. Compared to peer nations, the U.S. has among the highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes and the highest rate of avoidable deaths. Lifestyle choices that decrease risk can play a significant role in the effect of the coronavirus, starting with diet. 

In addition to getting vaccinated against COVID-19, lifestyle choices that decrease risk can play a significant role in the effect of the coronavirus, starting with diet. Click To Tweet

Okinawa, one of the blue zone regions, is highlighted due to its extreme longevity, plant-based diet, and now, the population’s resistance to COVID-19. 

People in Okinawa, for example, consume a predominantly plant-based diet rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants… They also consume abundant green leafy vegetables and soy products, with minimal fat (about 6% of the total energy intake).

In addition to their high life expectancy and low mortality from cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers, Okinawans have enjoyed a remarkable resistance to COVID-19 mortality. As of June 16, 2021, the COVID-19 mortality in Okinawa, Japan, was 0.08% (163 deaths out of 19,782 cases), which is one-sixteenth that of Tokyo (mortality rate 1.3%; 2183 deaths out of 167,416 cases).

People in the blue zones regions eat a 95 percent plant-based diet, high in whole grains, beans, rich in fiber, vegetables, leafy greens, and nuts. Following a Blue Zones diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and prolong your lifespan. All of which helps to decrease the risk of mortality from COVID-19.

Following a Blue Zones diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and prolong your lifespan. All of which helps to decrease the risk of mortality from COVID-19. Click To Tweet

More recent data showed that those eating a healthy plant-based diet were at 9 percent lower risk to COVID-19 infection while 41 percent lower risk of severe COVID-19.

More recent data showed that those eating a healthy plant-based diet were at 9 percent lower risk to COVID-19 infection while 41 percent lower risk of severe COVID-19. Click To Tweet

The benefits of a plant-based diet have been studied for years. For instance, a study back in 2016 showed found that substituting 3 percent of daily calories from animal protein with plant protein was associated with a lower risk for death from all causes: a 34 percent drop when participants swapped out processed red meat for plant protein, and a 19 percent decrease when they replaced eggs. Participants who increased their animal-source protein by 10 percent had an 8 percent higher risk of death from heart disease, and a 2 percent higher risk of death from all causes.

Adopting better eating habits from a plant-based diet is an easy yet powerful way to live a longer and healthier life. The ECJN says this change can help address major risk factors like limited physical activity, smoking, and poor diet that the United States already faces. Incorporating one positive lifestyle habit can impact other areas of your life including its longevity.

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