Eating a diet based on fruits, veggies, and whole grains might lower the risk for type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.
Lead author Ambika Satija, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said:
“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.”
“These findings provide further evidence to support current dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention.”
For the study, researchers gathered information from over 200,000 Americans. Participants filled out a series of questionnaires about their medical history, current health, diet, and lifestyle. The information was collected over 2 decades.
The researchers found that a healthy version of the plant-based diet – which included fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains – lowered the risk of diabetes by 34%. Participants who ate a less-healthy plant-based diet had a 16% lower risk of the disease.
The less-healthy version consisted of a lot of fruits and veggies, but also a limited amount of foods such as potatoes, refined grains, and sugary drinks. However, no benefit was seen in people who ate plant-based foods but also consumed a lot of refined carbohydrates and starchy vegetables.
Extra steps were taken to make sure there were few flaws in the self-reported dietary information. For example, researchers compared the nutrient intake information to tests of blood bio-markers to verify that they matched up. They also adjusted or modified the results to account for other characteristics, such as being overweight, that contribute to type 2 diabetes.
No Need to go Vegetarian or Vegan
So, do you have to give up meat and all animal-based foods to cut your risk of diabetes? The study’s authors say you don’t have to become a vegetarian or a vegan to achieve this benefit. Simply reducing the amount of animal-based foods you eat from 5 or 6 servings a day to about 4 servings a day can provide the same benefit.
People who adopt these changes generally cut back on red meat and processed meat – both of which have been linked to cancer – and substitute healthier plant-based foods, according to Frank Hu, the study’s senior author and a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“What we’re talking about is a moderate shift, replacing one or two servings of animal food a day with one or two plant-based foods. We’re not talking about a dramatic change from being a carnivore to being vegan or even vegetarian – we’re talking about a small shift, that’s doable for most people. You can still include some meat, but not have it in the centre of the plate.”
The study is published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.