Plant-based diet may lower chances of developing type 2 diabetes

Adhering to a plant-based diet could help lower your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, a recent study has found.

Based on a new meta-analysis, a group of researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health observed favorable associations more in participants whose dietary patterns consisted of healthy plant-based foods, compared to their counterpart. Although prior studies demonstrate a possible link between the consumption of a plant-based diet and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, this present study, researchers suggest, provides more comprehensive epidemiological evidence.

“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 Frank Qian, an author of the study, and an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition.

In their study, researchers combed through several data sources including PubMed, MEDLINE, Embase, and Web of Science, between December 2018 and February 2019. The data consisted of 23,544 cases of type 2 diabetes, with a total of 307,099 participants. Their analysis focused on healthy plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts, in addition to less healthy plant-based foods, like potatoes, white flour, and sugar.

The consumption of plant-based food with the exclusion of animal products emphasize its potential in managing or even preventing numerous chronic illnesses, like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. Plant-based foods considered for their beneficiary effects are typically those containing higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

From each of the nine studies,  researchers extracted the following information from medical assessments: the number of participants and cases of diabetes, mean age, mean body mass index (BMI), sex composition, follow-up duration, dietary assessment method, method of scoring adherence to a plant-based diet, and diabetes ascertainment. Researchers assessed the quality of the studies utilizing the Quality Assessment Tool for Observational Cohort and Cross-Sectional Studies.

Researchers determined that participants with the strongest adherence to a strict diet of plant-based foods had a 23% lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those with a weaker adherence to the diet. Among those who consumed a healthful plant-based diet, they found the association was more substantial.

“The dose-response association observed in our analysis suggests that, in general populations that do not practice strict vegetarian or vegan diets, replacing animal products with healthful plant-based foods is likely to exert a significant reduction in the risk of diabetes,” according to Qian.

“Moreover, our finding of broadly consistent associations of the plant-based diets with risk of type 2 diabetes across different subgroups further supports a likely causal role of this dietary pattern in the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Overall, the totality of current evidence supports health benefits for increasing plant-based food consumption in lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes and, potentially, other cardiometabolic diseases.”