A plant-based diet chock full of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes may significantly reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, according to a recent 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 diet can play a significant role in the prevention of type-2 diabetes,” Ambika Satija, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “These findings provide further evidence to support current dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention.”
Although former studies have discovered an association between a vegetarian diet and better health, like a decreased risk for type-2 diabetes, the recent study is unprecedented in distinguishing between plant-based diets and unhealthy diets encompassing sweetened foods and drinks. The project also examined the impact of incorporating some animal foods into diet.
The team kept tabs on more than 200,000 male and female health experts dotted across the U.S. for more than 20 years who regularly completed questionnaires about their diet, lifestyle, medical history and new illness diagnoses in three large, long-term projects. The team assessed the participants diet with a plant-based diet index, which gave plant-based foods high scores and animal-based food lower scores.
The researchers discovered that those who abide by a plant-based diet which is low in animal foods were linked to a 20 percent higher decreased risk of type-2 diabetes than those who did not follow the diet. In addition, consuming a nutritious plant-based diet was associated with a 34 percent lower risk of diabetes. By contrasts, an unhealthy diet loaded with refined grains, potatoes and sugar-sweetened drinks was associated with a 16 percent increased risk of diabetes.
Cutting back on even modest amounts of animal food, such as going from 5 to 6 servings of animal food a day to around 4 servings a day, was associated with decreased occurrences of diabetes, the study discovered.
“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,” Frank B. Hu , Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and senior author of the study, said in a press statement.
The team thought that nutritious plant-based diets may help lower the risk of type-2 diabetes since they tend to be high in fiber, antioxidants, unsaturated, micronutrients and low in saturated fats. Nutritious plant foods may also play a pivotal role to optimal gut microbiome, the researchers said.
While the study had a large base of participants, there were some limitations. One issue is that the study relied on self-reported dietary behavior. Nevertheless, since the information was cumulatively measured over many years, the potential risk for error was reduced.