It is well known, now, that a vegan diet can be a really healthy way to eat. However, there are many different ways of eating vegan and nature.com are saying that a plant-based diet has many health benefits that include weight control, even energy release and reduction in inflammation levels within the body. These benefits can support a healthy immune system and lower a person’s risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
A Vegan Diet
Being vegan isn't all about food, some people do follow a vegan diet, but don't live vegan. Living vegan is about living in a way that purposefully aims to limit and, ideally remove, all animal exploitation and protect the planet and environment. This means not wearing leather, reducing waste as much you can by reusing and recycling, not taking part in entertainment that involves performing animals, that kind of thing. People that only follow a vegan diet exclude animal products from the foods that they eat, such as meat, honey and dairy. However, even in this group there are variations, for example raw vegans will only eat raw foods, fruits and vegetables, they do not eat anything that has been cooked or processed, junk food vegans eat a mainly processed diet. Burgers, chips, ready meals, there is loads of vegan junk food to choose from and it can be a very easy, but very expensive, way to eat as little cooking is needed. There is also the whole food plant-based diet, this consists of eating food that is minimally processed and will include foods like brown rice, oats, beans and lentils. Which way of eating is the healthiest is something that can be argued, however, if someone eats mainly processed foods with few vegetables and fruits and does not supplement essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12, they may become ill from the same diseases that affect people that consume animal products due to a lack of nutrients and the increased amount of fat, salt and sugar that they consume.
Whole Food Plant-Based Eating
The World Health Organization (WHO) advise that people eat a balanced diet to strengthen their immune system. This includes eating fresh, unprocessed foods, such as vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Consumption of salt, sugar, fat and red meat should be limited to 1-2 times a weeks and poultry to 2-3 times a week with portion sizes being controlled. A review in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that people with optimal levels of micronutrients, these include vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from plants, may be more resilient to COVID-19. The problem with this is that most people aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finding that only one in 10 adults in the United States eat enough fruits or vegetables. Eating a balanced whole food plant-based diet that includes the widest variety of foods possible will increase your intake of essential minerals and vitamins, which will support and regulate your the immune system and may increase your resilience to COVID-19.
A whole food plant-based diet, that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, is also rich in antioxidants. These are chemicals that fight free radicals within the body and can cause many different health problems within the body, from cancers to wrinkles. Antioxidants can be found in foods such as berries, olives and nuts and there are studies being carried out now to test whether polyphenols found in plants can help to prevent or treat viral infections, such as COVID-19.
A recent study, published in scientific journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, found that people who follow a plant-based diet are 73 percent less likely to experience more severe COVID-19 symptoms. The study involved 2,884 frontline healthcare workers from six different countries, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 568 of participants were infected with COVID-19 and, of those 568, 138 individuals had moderate-to-severe COVID-19 severity while 430 individuals reported very mild to mild COVID-19 symptoms. Participants who reported following plant-based diets, including a vegetarian diet, had 73 percent lower odds of moderate-to-severe symptoms. This is compared to participants who reported following low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, such as keto or paleo, and were almost four times more likely to experience a moderate-to-severe form of COVID-19. Low-carbohydrate/high protein diets are typically high in animal-based protein and low in micronutrients. Individuals who reported following plant-based diets consumed more vegetables, fruit, and plant proteins such as legumes and nuts. The study authors explained that these foods supply many important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support the immune system. “In six countries, plant-based diets... were associated with lower odds of moderate-to-severe COVID-19. These dietary patterns may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19,” the study concluded.
The Take Away
At the moment the best defence against COVID-19 is a vaccination, after that its masks, hand hygiene and avoiding crowded areas. However, one thing that we can all do for protection against COVID-19 and other infections is to take care of our bodies by eating the healthiest balanced diet that we can, exercising and making sure that we, not only get enough rest, but also have fun. When we are having fun our bodies and minds are healthy.