It found that health professionals who reported following diets that are vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian (those that exclude meat but include fish) had a lower risk of developing moderate-to-severe Covid-19. But how reliable are these claims?
A recent study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health sought to test this hypothesis. It found that health professionals who reported following diets that are vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian (those that exclude meat but include fish) had a lower risk of developing moderate-to-severe COVID-19. Additionally, the study found that those who said they eat a low-carbohydrate or high-protein diet seemed to have an increased risk of contracting moderate-to-severe COVID-19. This may make it sound like certain food preferences – such as being vegetarian or a fish eater – may benefit you by reducing the risk of COVID-19. But in reality, things aren’t so clear.
Self-reporting and small samples
First, it’s important to underline that reported diet type didn’t influence the initial risk of contracting COVID-19. The study isn’t suggesting that diet changes the risk of getting infected. Nor did it find links between diet type and length of illness. Rather, the study only suggests that there’s a link between diet and the specific risk of developing moderate-to-severe COVID-19 symptoms.
It’s also important to consider the actual number of people involved. Just under 3,000 health professionals took part, spread across six western countries, and only 138 developed moderate-to-severe disease. As each person placed their diet into one of 11 categories, this left a very small number eating certain types of diet and then even smaller numbers getting seriously ill.
This meant, for instance, that fish eaters had to be grouped together with vegetarians and vegans to produce meaningful results.
In the end only 41 vegetarians/vegans contracted COVID-19 and only five fish eaters got the disease. Of these, just a handful went on to develop moderate-to-severe COVID-19. Working with such small numbers increases the risk of a falsely identifying a relationship between factors when there isn’t one – what statisticians call a type 1 error.
Then there is another problem with studies of this type. It’s observational only, so can only suggest theories about what is happening, rather than any causality of diet over the effects of COVID-19.
To attempt to show something is actually causal, you ideally need to test it as an intervention – that is, get someone to switch to doing it for the study, give it time to show an effect, and then compare the results with people who haven’t had that intervention.
Perhaps the best advice is simply to keep following general dietary guidelines: that is, that we should eat a variety of foods, mainly vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts, seeds and whole grains, with few highly processed foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat.
Ref Link: Lifestyle healthy
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