Eating a Plant-Based Diet May Help Prevent Diabetes

A new study says healthy, plant-based diets could cut your risk by 34 percent.

Vegetables

Vegetables photo via istock.com/PeopleImages

Just as the dust settles from last year’s processed-meats-cause-cancer hysteria, a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is putting another nail in meat’s coffin.

The study, published Tuesday in PLOS Medicine, says reducing animal product consumption, even by a little, may reduce your odds of developing type 2 diabetes.

The study found that high adherence to a plant-focused diet was associated with a significant reduction in diabetes risk. When the plant-based diet was a healthy one—that is, high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, and low in sugar-sweetened beverages, potatoes, and refined carbohydrates—diabetes risk lowered by roughly 34 percent. Even people following plant-based diets that included those unhealthier options, however, enjoyed a 16 percent lower chance of developing diabetes.

To reach those estimates, the researchers used data from three long-term studies, which surveyed more than 200,000 male and female health professionals about their diet, lifestyle choices, medical histories, and health problems. In a statement, the researchers wrote that vegetarian (or mostly vegetarian) diets may lower diabetes incidence because they’re rich in fiber, antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids, and micronutrients, while remaining low in saturated fat.

Lest you despair at the thought of a burger-less existence, know that the researchers found that cutting animal product consumption by even one serving a day may lead to a lower likelihood of developing diabetes—so simply swapping your turkey sandwich for a veggie wrap could make a difference. At the very least, it may be time to stop poking fun at your vegetarian friends.

“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,” lead author Ambika Satij said in the statement. “These findings provide further evidence to support current dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention.”