Healthy plant-based diet linked with substantially lower type 2 diabetes risk

June 14, 2016, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Credit: Wikipedia.

Consuming a plant-based diet—especially one rich in high-quality plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes—is linked with substantially lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"This study highlights that even moderate dietary changes in the direction of a healthful plant-based can play a significant role in the prevention of type 2 ," 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 will be published online June 14, 2016 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 may be detrimental for health. The study also considered the effect of including some animal foods in the 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 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% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared with low adherence to such a diet. Eating a healthy version of a was linked with a 34% lower diabetes risk, while a less healthy version—including foods such as refined grains, potatoes, and sugar-sweetened beverages—was linked with a 16% increased risk.

Even modestly lowering animal 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.

Explore further: Mediterranean diet high in healthy fat does not lead to weight gain, according to randomized trial

More information: "Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies," Ambika Satija, Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju, Eric B. Rimm, Donna Spiegelman, Stephanie E. Chiuve, Lea Borgi, Walter C. Willett, JoAnn E. Manson, Qi Sun, Frank B. Hu, PLOS Medicine, online June 14, 2016, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002039

Related Stories

Mediterranean diet high in healthy fat does not lead to weight gain, according to randomized trial

June 7, 2016
Focus on low-fat diets and lack of differentiation between healthy and unhealthy fat has led to 'paradoxical policies' about healthy eating

Eating more whole grains linked with lower mortality rates

June 13, 2016
Eating at least three servings of whole grains every day could lower your risk of death, according to new research in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.

A diet to help prevent serious eye illness

May 26, 2016
Want a diet that might help your eyes? Think green.

'Everything in moderation' diet advice may lead to poor metabolic health in US adults

October 31, 2015
Diet diversity, as defined by less similarity among the foods people eat, may be linked to lower diet quality and worse metabolic health, according to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston ...

Focus on healthy foods, not avoiding 'Bad' ones, for heart health: study

April 25, 2016
(HealthDay)—Emphasizing healthy foods in your diet, not just banishing "bad" foods, may be the key to avoiding heart attack and stroke, a new study suggests.

High consumption of sugar sweetened beverages linked to overall poor diet

September 16, 2015
New research presented at this year's annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Stockholm shows that high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which has been linked to increased risk ...

Recommended for you

Fat tissue may play a crucial role in the progression of diabetes, challenging long established notions

October 12, 2018
A new study by Australian researchers, out today, is challenging what we know about the causes of diabetes. The new research points to fat tissue as a source of disease, and widens our understanding beyond the traditional ...

Does breastfeeding hormone protect against type 2 diabetes?

October 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—The hormone prolactin—most commonly associated with breastfeeding—may play a role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.

Planned intermittent fasting may help reverse type 2 diabetes, suggest doctors

October 10, 2018
Planned intermittent fasting may help to reverse type 2 diabetes, suggest doctors writing in the journal BMJ Case Reports after three patients in their care, who did this, were able to cut out the need for insulin treatment ...

Markers of dairy fat consumption linked to lower risk of type two diabetes

October 10, 2018
Higher levels of biomarkers of dairy fat consumption are associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to new research published today in PLOS Medicine. The study, in more than 60,000 adults, was undertaken ...

New discovery restores insulin cell function in type 2 diabetes

October 8, 2018
By blocking a protein, VDAC1, in the insulin-producing beta cells, it is possible to restore their normal function in case of type 2 diabetes. In preclinical experiments, the researchers behind a new study have also shown ...

Weight loss drug shows positive effect on diabetes

October 4, 2018
At the 2018 Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, Brigham and Women's Hospital investigators from the Thrombolysis in Myocardial Infarction (TIMI) Study Group presented diabetes-related findings from ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.