Researchers analyzed 300,000 people who followed a plant-based diet, those who were strict had the lowest chances of developing the disease.
A plant-based diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and with little meat and dairy, slashes the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a comprehensive review of the evidence
A plant-based diet slashes the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a major scientific review. Researchers analyzed more than 300,000 people who followed a plant-based diet, such as vegetarian or vegan, to some degree.
Those who stuck to it religiously had the lowest chances of getting the condition, compared to those who were more flexible.
Adults who chose ‘healthy’ plant-based foods low in sugar, fat and salt, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, had the lowest risk.
In all of the studies analyzed, the highest category of adherence to plant-based diets still involved a significant amount of food derived from animals.
Plant-based diets have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce weight, both of which can slash the risk of type 2 diabetes.
There are four million people living with diabetes in the UK, and 90 per cent of those have type 2. Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston, Massachusetts, used nine studies which investigated the link between a plant-based diet and type 2 diabetes.
The review included data from 307,099 participants, of which 23,544 were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
The researchers found people with the highest adherence to plant-based diets had a 23 per cent lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those with weaker adherence to the diets.
The risk was most reduced in those who ate healthy plant-based diets, according to the findings published in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.
‘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.’
According to the researchers, the current study provides the most comprehensive evidence to date for the link between plant-based diets and reduced type 2 diabetes risk.
The mechanism is not clear; however, the researchers provided some suggestions.
Healthy diets and plant-based foods have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and blood pressure, reduce weight gain, and alleviate systemic inflammation, all of which can contribute to type 2 diabetes risk.
The increasingly popular ‘healthy’ plant-based diet includes a mix of foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, and little meat and dairy.
Experts called for more research to understand what components of a healthy plant-based diet can protect against type 2 diabetes.
They said the high amount of fiber – found mainly in wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and legumes – may play an important role.
Dietary fiber helps to maintain a healthy weight and has previously been shown to reduce the risk of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Dr. Ian Johnson, nutrition researcher at Quadram Institute Bioscience, Norwich, said: ‘It is well established from population studies that vegetarians tend to have a lower body-mass index and a lower risk of heart disease and other chronic health problems than meat-eaters.
‘However, the term “vegetarian” is applied to a whole range of different dietary habits ranging from those who only avoid red meat to vegans who avoid all foods of animal origin.
‘Whatever mechanisms may be at work, this study is consistent with current public health advice to consume substantial quantities of lightly processed plant foods rich in whole-grains and fiber, and to limit consumption of animal products.’
Professor Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics, King’s College London (KCL), said: ‘Generally, vegetarians are lighter than meat-eaters and they eat more wholegrains – both factors that would decrease risk of developing diabetes.
‘Indeed, a vegetarian or other plant-based diets that are high in free sugars and refined carbohydrates is likely to increase risk of type 2 diabetes especially when associated with low levels of physical activity.
“Consequently, the avoidance of meat does not necessarily reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.’
The study did not compare a plant-based diet to a diet with meat. It was also unable to control for family history, exercise activity and ethnicity, which are also risk factors for type 2 diabetes, but did control for age and BMI.
More than 12million people in the UK are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The dramatic increase in obesity rates is the main driver behind so many more people.
Source: Vanessa Chalmers, Health Reporter