People hoping to avoid catching Covid-19 could look to ditch the meat and dairy, according to new research.

The Universidade de Sao Paulo study in Brazil found vegetarians, vegans and “flexitarians” who follow a plant-based diet and consume meat no more than three times per week were 39% less likely to contract Covid-19 compared to omnivores (those who eat plants and animals).

The paper published in the BMJ Nutrition Prevention and Health journal looked to “evaluate the influence of dietary patterns on the incidence and evolution of Covid-19” among those who follow a plant-based diet compared to those who follow an omnivorous diet.

“Our results suggest that a plant-based diet and mainly vegetarian diet may be considered for protection against infection with COVID-19,” the authors said.

Of the 702 Brazillian individuals who took part in the observational study from March 18 to July 22, 2022, 424 were omnivorous and 278 had plant-based diets.

The plant-based food group was further split to include flexitarian/semi-vegetarian individuals who consume meat less than three times a week, lacto-ovo-vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products but not meat, fish or other shellfish and “strict” vegetarians or vegans, who do not consume any kind of animal-produced food.

The meat diet group had a higher reported incidence of Covid-19 with 52% than the plant-based eaters at 40% and they were more likely to have had “moderate to severe infection.”

There was no major difference between the food groups in the duration or the severity of symptoms.

Previously, only two studies have reported such findings — both published in BMJ publications in 2021 — that have drawn similar conclusions.

The first found that front-line healthcare workers from six countries who followed plant-based diets had a 73% lower risk of developing a moderate-to-severe case of Covid-19.

The second investigated the association between diet quality and the severity of a Covid-19 infection, and its interaction with socio-economic deprivation.