ZOE study is the first and largest to show that a gut-friendly diet cuts the chances of developing COVID-19. High quality diet scores were also linked with a ‘healthier’ and a more diverse gut microbiome, which was also associated with a wide range of favorable health outcomes, including reduced inflammation and body fat and improved levels of blood lipids and glucose. For these aforementioned reasons, higher quality scoring diets were also referred to as ‘gut-friendly’ diets. A low diet quality score is associated with diets high in ultra-processed foods and low amounts of plant-based foods, like fruit and vegetables.
- The researchers found that people who ate the highest quality diet were around 10% less likely to develop COVID-19 than those with the least nutritious diet and 40% less likely to become severely ill if they developed COVID-19.
- Recent research on a smaller cross-sectional sample has shown that people who eat a plant-based or pescatarian diet are less likely to become severely ill with COVID-19. However, this is the first study to show that a healthier diet actually reduces the chances of developing the disease in the first place.
- Importantly, the relationship between diet quality and COVID-19 risk still remained after accounting for all potential confounding factors. Factors included age, body mass index (BMI), ethnicity, smoking, physical activity and underlying health conditions. Mask-wearing habits and population density were also considered.
- Strikingly, the impact of diet was amplified by individual life situations, with people living in low-income neighborhoods and having the lowest quality diet being around 25% more at risk from COVID-19 than people in more affluent communities who were eating in the same way.
- Based on these results, the researchers estimate that nearly a quarter of COVID-19 cases could have been prevented if these differences in diet quality and socioeconomic status had not existed.
- This further highlights that improved access to nutritious, healthier food could be substantive for bettering public health, especially among the underprivileged members of the community.
These findings chime with recent results from a landmark PREDICT study, showing that people who eat higher quality diets (with low levels of ultra-processed foods) also have a healthier collection of microbes in their guts, which is linked to better health. You don’t have to go vegan, but getting more diverse plants on your plate is a great way to boost the health of your gut microbiome, improve your immunity and overall health, and potentially reduce your risk from COVID-19.
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The results also suggest that public health strategies that improve access to healthy foods and address social determinants of health may help to reduce the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. These findings are a call to governments and stakeholders to prioritize healthy diets and wellbeing with impactful policies, otherwise we risk losing decades of economic progress and a substantial increase in health disparities.
Source: The ZOE COVID Study is a not-for-profit initiative that was launched at the end of March 2020 to support vital COVID-19 research.