- Adopting a plant-based diet can significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, particularly with consistent consumption of healthy plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.
- Unhealthy plant-based foods, like heavily processed foods and foods with added sugar, do not contribute to lowering diabetes risk. Starchy vegetables like potatoes were also not recommended.
- While the exact cause of the risk reduction is not explicitly outlined, factors such as healthier weight maintenance, increased intake of antioxidants and beneficial plant oils, and reduced intake of potentially harmful substances might play crucial roles.
- A diet that includes animal protein can still be considered healthy if these proteins are minimized and portion control is practiced, with a strong focus on increasing plant-based food intake.
- Red meats or processed meats should be kept to a minimum, with no more than one serving per week being the recommendation.
A common saying as we all know is, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Interestingly, current research is pointing to the potential truth in this age-old adage. Evidence suggests that naturally sourced plant foods in your daily consumption can significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Plant-Based Diet and Reduction of Diabetes Risk
The findings of this new study highlight that individuals who adopted a predominantly plant-based diet reduced their risk of diabetes by an impressive 23%.
Moreover, the study revealed a stronger correlation – a 30% decrease in the risk of type 2 diabetes – was observed in people who consumed healthy plant foods. These include a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. These foods are rich sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds.
What Constitutes Unhealthy Plant Foods?
In contrast, unhealthy plant foods are processed foods and foods containing added sugar – like white bread, white pasta, breakfast cereals, chips, or cookies. The research did not include starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, in their recommended list of healthy choices.
“The effectiveness of a plant-based diet in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes is significant,” noted the review’s senior author, Dr. Qi Sun. He goes on to stress the importance of being selective with the types of plant-based foods you include in your diet and adds that even a diet that includes animal protein such as fish, chicken and yogurt can still be considered healthy if these are minimized.
Mechanisms Behind the Health Benefits
The defining cause for the reduction in type 2 diabetes risk among individuals who switched to a mainly plant-based diet is not explicitly outlined in this study. The research did take into consideration weight as a factor, indicating that maintaining a healthier weight could be a contributing factor to the reduced diabetes risk.
Dr. Sun suggests that beneficial compounds found in plant-based foods such as antioxidants and beneficial plant oils might play a crucial role. They may help enhance insulin sensitivity or reduce inflammation. Also, a reduction in animal product consumption can lower the intake of potentially harmful substances like cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium.
The review involved the analysis of nine nutrition studies published from 2008 to 2018. These involved over 300,000 individuals, of whom approximately 24,000 had type 2 diabetes. The investigators found a correlation between plant-based food intake and lower odds of diabetes, but they also noted that the study was not designed to firmly establish a cause-and-effect link.
Recommendations for a Plant-Based Lifestyle
Dietician and diabetes educator, Maudene Nelson, lends her support to the idea of people consuming more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. She emphasized that a plant-based diet can be versatile and appealing, offering options like apples with peanut butter or a veggie-packed gumbo.
Maudene advises portion control — you might switch out a sausage for dinner but don’t replace it with an excessive amount of chicken. She suggested limiting protein sources to no more than six ounces a day, roughly equivalent to two decks of playing cards.
Red meats or processed meats such as bacon or cold cuts can still be included in the diet but in moderation, suggested Dr. Sun. He advised not exceeding one serving a week of these meats.
The result of these studies has brought about very insightful revelation on the benefits of a plant-based diet and its relation with diabetes risk.
For additional details on preventing type 2 diabetes, refer to the guidelines provided by the American Diabetes Association.