Plant-Based Diet Said to Substantially Reduce Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

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A vegetarian diet may not be something that everyone would prefer, but as studies have pointed out time and again, it is one of those diets that will help you keep diseases at bay.

One such study appeared in PLOS Medicine this month wherein researchers revealed that a high-quality plant based diet has the potential of substantially reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. According to researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes is something that will play a significant role in preventing type 2 diabetes.

For the study, which is the first to make distinctions between healthy plant-based diets and less healthy ones that include things like sweetened foods and beverages, researchers followed more than 200,000 male and female health professionals across the U.S. for more than 20 years who had regularly filled out questionnaires on their diet, lifestyle, medical history, and new disease diagnoses as part of three large long-term studies. The researchers evaluated participants’ diets using a plant-based diet index in which they assigned plant-derived foods higher scores and animal-derived foods lower scores.

The study found that high adherence to a plant-based diet that was low in animal foods was associated with a 20 per cent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared with low adherence to such a diet. Eating a healthy version of a plant-based diet was linked with a 34 per cent lower diabetes risk, while a less healthy version–including foods such as refined grains, potatoes, and sugar-sweetened beverages–was linked with a 16 per cent increased risk.

Even modestly lowering animal food consumption–for example, from 5-6 servings per day to about 4 servings per day–was linked with lower diabetes incidence, the study found.

“A shift to a dietary pattern higher in healthful plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods, especially red and processed meats, can confer substantial health benefits in reducing risk of type 2 diabetes,” said Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study.

The researchers suggested that healthful plant-based diets could be lowering type 2 diabetes risk because such diets are high in fiber, antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids, and micronutrients such as magnesium, and are low in saturated fat. Healthy plant foods may also be contributing to a healthy gut microbiome, the authors said.

Limitations of the study include possible measurement errors because the data was self-reported, although the authors noted that because the study cumulatively measured diet over time, it reduced such errors. The authors also said that their findings need to be replicated in other populations.