Updated 24 February 2017

A plant-based diet may lower risk of type 2 diabetes

A new study found that people who closely followed a plant-based diet low in animal-based foods had a 20 percent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

Eating a mainly plant-based diet especially one with lots of healthy veggies, fruit and whole grains may significantly lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.

Chronic disease prevention

"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," said study lead author Ambika Satija, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Read: Eat your veggies

"These findings provide further evidence to support current dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention," Satija added in a school news release.

The study included information from more than 200,000 Americans. They all completed a series of questionnaires about their diet, lifestyle, medical history and current health. The information was collected over 20 years.

People who closely followed a plant-based diet low in animal-based foods had a 20 percent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes than those who didn't. However, the research didn't establish a firm cause-and-effect relationship; it only showed a link.

The researchers also found that the healthier the foods, the lower the risk seemed to be.

Read: Green leafy vegetables cut diabetes risk

A healthy version of a plant-based diet lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes by 34 percent. A healthy diet included foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, the study noted.

But, people who opted for less healthy foods – though they still ate many plant-based foods – had a 16 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes, the study revealed. The less healthy diet included foods such as refined grains, potatoes and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Substantial health benefits

The researchers also found that even a modest reduction in animal-based food consumption was linked to a lower type 2 diabetes risk. The reduced risk was seen with as little a change as going from five to six servings of animal-based foods per day to about four servings per day, the study said.

Read: Diabetes type 2 and diet

"A shift to a dietary pattern higher in healthful plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and lower in animal-based foods, especially red and processed meats, can confer substantial health benefits in reducing risk of type 2 diabetes," study senior author Frank Hu said. He's a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard.

The study was published online in the journal PLoS Medicine. Funding was provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

In related news, another study found that eating three or more servings of whole grains a day lowered the risk of premature death by 20 percent compared to eating fewer or no servings of whole grains daily. This study was published in Circulation.

Read more:

Symptoms of diabetes

Causes of diabetes

Diagnosing diabetes


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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