The risk of developing type 2 diabetes is lower for those who consume a plant-based diet, especially rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts, says a study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Ambika Satija, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition, lead author of the study, "This study highlights that even moderate dietary changes in the direction of a healthful plant-based diet can play a significant role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes. These findings provide further evidence to support current dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention."
‘A healthy plant-based diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 34 percent.’
Numerous studies have found the links between vegetarian diet and health, including reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. But this study is the first to make distinctions between healthy plant-based diet, and less healthy sweetened foods and beverages that are detrimental to health.
The researchers included more than 200,000 men and women health professionals across the U.S. for more than 20 years. The participants regularly filled out questionnaires related to dietary habits, lifestyle, medical history and new disease diagnoses as part of three large long-term studies.
The diet of the participants were evaluated using a plant-based diet index in which they assigned plant-derived foods higher scores and animal-derived foods lower scores.
People who adhered to a plant-based diet that was low in animal foods had 20% reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A healthy version of a plant-based diet was linked with a 34% lower diabetes risk.
People who consumed a less healthy version--including foods such as refined grains, potatoes, and sugar-sweetened beverages--had a 16% increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Lowering animal food consumption from 5 to 6 servings per day to 4 servings per day was linked to 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 findings of the study suggest that healthy plant-based diets could lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes because such diets are high in fiber, unsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants and micronutrients such as magnesium, and are low in saturated fat.
The authors noted that healthy plant foods may be contributing to a healthy gut microbiome.
The study is published in PLOS Medicine.