Plant-Based Diets May Reduce Risk of Diabetes, Analysis Suggests

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Boston, MA—People who adhere strongly to a plant-based diet may have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with a lower adherence, according to a new meta-analysis from researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Frank Qian, first author of the study, who conducted the research as a masters student in the Department of Nutrition, said in a press release: “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.”

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The researchers considered nine studies published through February 2019, which included health data from 307,099 participants, 23,544 of which had type 2 diabetes. They found that people with the highest adherence to predominantly plant-based diets had a 23% lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those with weaker adherence—and noted that the association was stronger in those who ate healthful plant-based diets, i.e., those who avoided foods like white flour, sugar, and potatoes in favor of whole grains, fruits, and veggies.

The researchers noted that healthy plant-based foods have been shown to individually and jointly improve insulin sensitivity and blood pressure, reduce weight gain, and alleviate systemic inflammation, all of which can up the risk of diabetes.

Qi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study, said in the release: “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.”

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