People who tend to eat mostly plants may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston suggests.
Researchers examined data from nine previously published studies with a total of 307,099 participants, including 23,544 people who developed type 2 diabetes. The length of the studies ranged from 2 to 28 years.
Overall, people who most closely adhered to a vegan, vegetarian or other type of plant-based diet were 23% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who consumed the least amount of plant-based meals.
People who eat a healthy variety of plant-based meals can lower their diabetes risk even when they’re not strict vegetarians or vegans.
But they may not benefit as much if their plant-based diet is full of foods like French fries, white bread, and white rice.
Consuming healthy plant foods that are whole or minimally processed, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils, nuts and whole grains, should be emphasized.
People in the study who followed this advice - with the healthiest mix of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in their plant-based diets, were 30% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than participants who didn’t.
Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity and aging and happens when the body can’t properly use or make enough of the hormone insulin to clear sugar from the bloodstream. Left unchecked, diabetes can lead to serious complications such as nerve damage, blindness, amputations, kidney damage and heart problems.
Doctors typically advise patients with type 2 diabetes to follow a low-calorie, low-fat and low-carbohydrate diet that includes lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains as well as lean poultry and fish. Fatty, sugary foods are discouraged along with consuming too much red or processed meat.
How plant-based diets may fend off diabetes
Plant-based diets can promote metabolic health and reduce diabetes risk through many pathways such as preventing excess weight gain, improving insulin sensitivity and reducing inflammation.
Higher fibre plant foods are healthy for the gut microbiome, improve gastrointestinal function, improve insulin sensitivity, and help manage blood sugar.
But portion sizes of plant foods still matter.
Source: JAMA Internal Medicine, online July 22, 2019.
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