Preventing Type 2 Diabetes: Eat Plant-Based Diet
Researchers say that eating a plant-based diet—especially one rich in high-quality plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes—is linked with a substantially lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“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,” said Ambika Satija, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition, lead author of the study. “These findings provide further evidence to support current dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention.”
The study appears online in PLOS Medicine.
While previous studies have found links between vegetarian diets and improved health outcomes, including reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, this new study is the first to make distinctions between healthy plant-based diets and less healthy ones that include things like sweetened foods and beverages, which can be bad for your health. The study also considered the effect of including some animal foods in your diet.
The 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 also evaluated participants’ diets using a plant-based diet index in which they assigned plant-derived foods higher scores and animal-derived foods lower scores.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes by Cutting Back on Animal Foods
The study found that people who strongly adhere to a plant-based diet that was low in animal foods had a 20 percent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared with those who didn’t stick to this type of diet. Eating a healthy version of a plant-based diet was linked with a 34 percent lower diabetes risk, while a less healthy version—including foods such as refined grains, potatoes, and sugar-sweetened beverages—was linked with a 16 percent increased risk.
Even modestly lowering animal food consumption—for example, cutting back from five or six servings per day to about four servings per day—was linked with preventing type 2 diabetes, 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 preventing type 2 diabetes 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.
Source: Harvard Chan School of Public Health news release
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