Done correctly, a plant-based diet full of “real” food can help PREVENT diabetes
04/28/2020 // Divina Ramirez // Views

Plant-based diets are generally healthy and provide a lot of benefits. Now a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a plant-based diet can lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 23 percent.

A team of researchers from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston found that eating plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, significantly contribute to a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Diet is a modifiable risk factor for Type 2 diabetes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100 million American adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes. Given these figures, the infamous metabolic disease continues to represent a growing health problem.

One of the main risk factors for Type 2 diabetes -- the most common form of diabetes -- is diet. For instance, a 2008 study showed that regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and fruit juices was associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. In particular, women who drank two or more sodas per day had a 24 percent increase in diabetes risk compared to women who drank less than one soda a month.

Another 2008 study revealed that eating fewer fruits and vegetables significantly increased the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Adults who had high levels of vitamin C from regular consumption of fruits and vegetables had a 62 percent lower diabetes risk compared to those who had low levels of the micronutrient.

Fortunately, what we can glean from the available literature on diet and diabetes is that diet is a modifiable risk factor. This means that changing your diet to cut back on certain foods and eating more of others can greatly reduce your risk of developing the metabolic condition.


A plant-based diet can reduce risk of Type 2 diabetes

In recent years, many studies have provided evidence to suggest that vegetarian or plant-based diets can reduce an individual's risk of diabetes.

According to Frank Qian, the first author of the study from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, “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.”

To study the link between Type 2 diabetes risk and plant-based dietary patterns, the researchers conducted a comprehensive review and meta-analysis of nine studies that looked at the association between diet and Type 2 diabetes risk. All in all, the studies involved had a total of 307,099 participants, where 23,544 had Type 2 diabetes. In the context of the study, a “plant-based” diet includes healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, as well as some animal protein and carbohydrates.

The researchers found that participants who followed a plant-based diet had a 23 percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes than those who did not, noting that the risk was even lower in people who adhered more strictly to a healthy plant-based diet. One reason this may be so is that nutritious plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables help prevent weight gain. In fact, these foods may even lead to weight loss, which helps minimize metabolic abnormalities linked to Type 2 diabetes, such as obesity, insulin resistance (high blood sugar) and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Additionally, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants that help reduce low-grade inflammation, a type of chronic inflammation typically associated with Type 2 diabetes. (Related: Aged garlic extract reduces low-grade inflammation in obese people.)

Switching to a plant-based diet doesn't have to feel intimidating, especially if you've never followed a healthy diet prior. Making small dietary changes like eating more vegetables or grabbing some fruits for dessert can help you get started. You can also replace animal protein with plant-based protein sources like beans and legumes to avoid health risks associated with meat consumption.

Sources include: 1 2 3

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