We all know that unhealthy diets can cause medical issues, and thus sticking to healthy foods is better, but this conversation has not been so prevalent regarding COVID. Everyone is told to “mask up,” to “get vaccinated,” and to “wash your hands, yet I cannot recall the last time someone told me to “eat healthy” to stay safe from the pandemic.
In a recent study by Massachusetts General Hospital, over half a million people in the USA and the UK participated in a smart phone symptom study that analyzed each participant’s diet and gathered data for the results. Each participant added data about their diet, which was ranked by healthiness through a “Plant-BasedDiet Score that emphasizes healthy plant foods such as fruits and vegetables.” From March to December 2020, 31,831 participants were infected by COVID, and those with better diets had a “41% lower risk of developing severe COVID-19” symptoms. They also had a 9% lower chance of getting infected.
The researchers connected these sample statistics with the socioeconomic inequality caused and reinforced by COVID. They found a relationship between “poor diet and increased socioeconomic deprivation with COVID-19 risk that was higher than the sum of the risk associated with each factor alone.” Often poorer communities have less access to healthy food, specifically plant-based ingredients that led to less severe COVID results in this study. This means that they may have a higher chance at infection, and likely will have more dangerous outcomes to COVID. This means while plant-based diets can very much help prevent the dangerous nature of COVID-19, but is not a strategy many can employ.
Why does healthy eating help fighting COVID? Well, we know that the humoral and cell mediated immune responses are crucial in building immunity and fighting against COVID. Cytotoxic T-Cells destroy infected cells, and Plasma B-Cells create antibodies. Macrophages also destroy antigens to help out. With all these important parts of the immune system being so important, and being attacked by COVID, the body needs food to create more.
Vitamins and Minerals are crucial for this, and plants are the prime method of acquiring such nutrients. “Vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein” all crutial in building and strengthening the immune system, as per Harvard T.H. Chan. Proteins in particular can be used by the body to create more white blood cells, which are made much of protein. Consuming too much fat and sugars will not go into the immune systems, which depresses it.
Healthy diets, including plant-based diets, are not a cure for COVID, but the data has shown it may help people. Unfortunately, it will not help everyone due to socioeconomic inequality, and is another reason why governments should focus on getting better access to healthy food in poorer communities that don’t currently have much. For those who are able to eat healthy, please do so. Not only does it help the fight against COVID, but in any sickness. These statistics are not specific to COVID, but it is important for this conversation to be had about eating healthy because the focus is often only about vaccines, masks and politics with COVID. It is not a cure, though. Getting vaccinated and wearing a mask is the best way to stop the spread, and I highly suggest everyone get vaccinated.
This study also supports the new plant-based diet trend. Many skeptics do not want anything to do with this diet, but from athletes like Serena Williams using it, to this study supporting it, plant-based diets are getting results.