Blog By: Aishwarya Ghumekar
Consuming a plant-based diet–especially one rich in high-quality plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes–is linked with substantially lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“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 Ambika Satija, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition, lead author of the study. “These findings provide further evidence to support current dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention.”
While previous studies have found links between vegetarian diets and improved health outcomes, including reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, this new study is the first to make distinctions between healthy plant-based diets and less healthy ones that include things like sweetened foods and beverages, which may be detrimental for health. The study also considered the effect of including some animal foods in the diet.
The researchers followed more than 200,000 male and female health professionals across the U.S. for more than 20 years who had regularly filled out questionnaires on their diet, lifestyle, medical history, and new disease diagnoses as part of three large long-term studies. The researchers evaluated participants’ diets using a plant-based diet index in which they assigned plant-derived foods higher scores and animal-derived foods lower scores.
The study found that high adherence to a plant-based diet that was low in animal foods was associated with a 20% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared with low adherence to such a diet. Eating a healthy version of a plant-based diet was linked with a 34% lower diabetes risk, while a less healthy version–including foods such as refined grains, potatoes, and sugar-sweetened beverages–was linked with a 16% increased risk.