Plant-Based Diet Found to Lower Diabetes Risk

Adherence to a plant-based diet low in animal foods found to improve overall health.

Individuals who eat a plant-based diet are at a substantially lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

There have been many prior studies that discovered a link between vegetarian diets and improved health outcomes, which included lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. However, a study published in PLOS Medicine is the first to compare healthy plant-based diets versus less healthy diets that include sugary foods and drinks, which can be detrimental to health.

Researchers also looked into the effects that certain animal-based foods had on the diet.

“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 senior study author Frank Hu.

For more than 20 years, researchers followed more than 200,000 male and female health professionals across the United States. Participants had to regularly fill out questionnaires regarding their diet, medical history, lifestyle, and any new disease diagnoses, which was a part of 3 large long-term studies.

Researchers used a plant-based diet index to evaluate patient diets. Plant-derived foods were assigned higher scores, while animal-derived foods received lower scores.

The results of the study showed a 20% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes in patients with a high-adherence to a plant-based diet low in animal foods, compared with low adherence to this type of diet.

Furthermore, consuming a healthy version of a plant-based diet was associated with a 34% lower risk of diabetes, while a less healthy version that included foods like potatoes, refined grains, and sugary beverages was linked with a 16% increased risk.

Authors noted that if people lowered animal food consumption even modestly, it could result in lower diabetes incidence.

“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,” said lead study author Ambika Satija. “These findings provide further evidence to support current dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention.”

Researchers believe that the link between healthy plant-based diets and a lower risk of diabetes is because the diets contain antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids, magnesium, low saturated fat, and are high in fiber.

A limitation to the study were potential measurement errors because of self-reported data. However, authors noted that because the study cumulatively measured diet over time, it helped reduce these errors.

Additionally, future research needs to be replicated in other populations.