Plant-Based Low-Carbohydrate Diet Found to Reduce Mortality in Patients With Diabetes


Patients with diabetes who followed a plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet and participated in healthy lifestyle habits experienced the most health benefits.

A plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet is associated with reduced all-cause mortality in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to a study that will be published in the April edition of Diabetes Care. Patients who participated in the low-carbohydrate diet had 24% less incidence of all-cause mortality.1

“While avoiding refined and highly-processed carbohydrates has been widely recommended to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, our study provides the first empirical evidence on how low-carb diets can help manage the progression of existing diabetes,” said lead author Yang Hu, research associate in the Department of Nutrition, in a press release.1

A plant-based diet consists of lots of vegetables—about half the plate should consist of vegetables and include a variety of colors, according to a Harvard article on plant-based eating.2 Plant-based eating prioritizes getting good fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados, eating whole grain carbohydrates, a variety of leafy greens, legumes, beans, and getting sweetness from fruits.2

Investigators conducted a prospective cohort study to understand the potential association between a low-carbohydrate diet and mortality rates among patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The team looked at 34 years of data on 7224 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 2877 men from the Health Professional Follow-up study who developed diabetes following study enrollment.1

While enrolled in either the Nurses’ or Health Professional studies, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire of lifestyle and medical history every second year. The current study examined participants’ diet composition, which was scored on the ratio of animal protein and fat, vegetable protein and fat, high-quality carbohydrates, and low-quality carbohydrates.1

Patients who followed a low-carbohydrate, plant-based eating pattern had nearly one-fourth lower rates of all-cause mortality. Specifically, the diet was lower in low-quality carbohydrates but still included high-quality carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.1

Plant-based, low-carbohydrate diets were associated with reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer mortality. Conversely, low-quality low-carbohydrate diets, which includes potatoes, added sugar, refined grains, with animal-based proteins did not appear to significantly reduce mortality.1

In addition, patients who exercised, did not smoke, and consumed moderate amounts of alcohol experienced the most benefits while also on a plant-based, low carbohydrate diet.1

“This study, once again, underscores the importance of diet quality when choosing among various diets for diabetes control and management,” said Qi Sun, senior author and associate professor in the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology, in the press release.1


  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Plant-based low-carbohydrate diet linked with lower risk of premature death for people with type 2 diabetes. News Release. February 28, 2023. Accessed on March 2, 2023.
  2. McManus K, What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it? Harvard Health Publishing. November 16, 2021. Accessed on March 2, 2023.
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