A new US analysis has found that those who stick to a plant-based diet appear to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes of those who follow the diet less closely.
Carried out by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the new meta-analysis looked at nine studies which included health data on 307,099 participants aged 18 and over and 23,544 cases of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers analyzed participants’ adherence to a predominantly plant-based diet – which could include a mix of healthy plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes and also less healthy plant-based foods such as potatoes, white flour, and sugar, and small amounts of animal products – as well as adherence to a “healthy” plant-based diet which emphasized the healthier plant-based foods and included a lower consumption of the unhealthier ones.
The findings, published online in JAMA Internal Medicine, showed that participants who had the highest adherence to a plant-based diet had a 23% lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those who followed this type of diet less closely.
This association was even stronger when they followed a healthy plant-based diet which included more healthy plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
According to the researchers, the findings provide the most comprehensive evidence to date for the association between following a healthy plant-based diet and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
“Plant-based dietary patterns are gaining popularity in recent years, so we thought it was crucial to quantify their overall association with diabetes risk, particularly since these diets can vary substantially in terms of their food composition,” said first author Frank Qian.
The researchers suggest that following this type of diet could reduce type 2 diabetes risk as the healthy foods included in plant-based diets have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, improve blood pressure, reduce weight gain, and reduce systemic inflammation, all of which are risk factors for diabetes.
“Overall, these data highlighted the importance of adhering to plant-based diets to achieve or maintain good health, and people should choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tofu, and other healthy plant foods as the cornerstone of such diets,” said senior author Qi Sun.