Study Finds Low-Carb, High-Protein Diets May Increase Chances for Moderate-to-Severe Covid-19

3 min readJun 12, 2021

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

A new study published in the BMJ Journals, found that people who eat a plant-based diet had a 73% lower chance of getting moderate-to-severe COVID-19 compared to their meat-eating counterparts.

Pescatarians (people who do not eat meat but eat fish) had 59% lower odds.

These diets were higher in vegetables, legumes, and nuts, while low in poultry, red, and processed meats.

The study was done among 2884 front-line healthcare workers (physicians and nurses) from six countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, and the USA). More than 70% of the study participants were men.

The study criteria required participants to have both frequent and close-up exposure to patients with COVID-19.

Participants reported if they followed any type of specific diet before the COVID-19 pandemic. They had 11 choices, which were:

Based on that initial survey, researchers combined categories to the following:

  • Whole Foods, plant-based, vegetarian
  • Whole food, plant-based, vegetarian, or pescatarian
  • Low carbohydrate, high protein

Of the 2884 participants, there were eventually 568 COVID-19 cases. Cases were defined as individuals with self-reported COVID-19-like illness (fever, coughing, fatigue, loss of taste or smell) or a positive PCR or antibody test.

Of those, there were 430 who had mild to mild, severe COVID-19, and 138 had moderate-to-severe COVID-19.

Compared with those who followed plant-based diets, those who followed low carbohydrate, high protein diets had over 3 times higher odds of moderate-to-severe COVID-19.

“Low carbohydrate, high protein diets were associated with non-significant greater odds of severe COVID-19 when compared with those who did not report following these diets. However, when we compared these diets to plant-based diets, those who reported following low carbohydrate, high protein diets had significantly greater odds of moderate-to-severe COVID-19.”

Researchers concluded that “a healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19.”

You can read more about the study here.


As a nutritionist and someone who spends a lot of time reading scientific studies, this makes sense due to the negative effects of red meat on the gut microbiome.

Red meat is very high in iron, which can build up in body tissues. Please read my article The Problem with Iron — Why Supplementing Can be Harmful to learn more about that.

Additionally, the amino acid carnitine in red meat contributes to producing a compound called TMAO, which increases one’s risk of ‘all-cause mortality.

And lastly, diets with lots of red meat typically have a lot of saturated fat in them. The problem with saturated fats is that when these bacteria die, they release toxins, called endotoxins, lipopolysaccharides, or LPS for short.

These endotoxins can get absorbed into the bloodstream during saturated fat absorption via chylomicrons. LPS in the bloodstream can lead to sepsis. Many researchers believe COVID-19 is sepsis and that it’s just a case of semantics.