Eating a healthy plant-based diet may help you head off type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.
Healthy plant-based foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee/tea, vegetable oils and legumes. Unhealthy plant-based foods include refined grains, fruit juices, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sweets/desserts.
"Our findings support the beneficial role of healthy plant-based diets in diabetes prevention and provide new insights for future investigation," the researchers wrote in the April 8 issue of the journal Diabetologia.
For the study, the investigators analyzed data from more than 10,600 participants in three long-term U.S. studies. Most were white and middle-aged (average age: 54 years). On average, they had a body mass index (BMI) of 25.6, which is considered overweight. BMI is an estimate of body fat based on height and weight.
Compared with study participants who did not develop type 2 diabetes, those who did ate fewer healthy plant-based foods, the findings showed.
They also had a higher average BMI, were more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, to take blood pressure and cholesterol drugs, to be less active and have a family history of diabetes, according the report.
Along with completing questionnaires about their eating habits, participants provided blood samples that were analyzed for metabolites associated with their diets. Metabolites are produced when the body breaks down food, drugs, chemicals or its own tissue to make energy.
"While it is difficult to tease out the contributions of individual foods because they were analyzed together as a pattern, individual metabolites from consumption of polyphenol-rich plant foods like fruits, vegetables, coffee and legumes are all closely linked to a healthy plant-based diet and lower risk of diabetes," said study author Frank Hu. He is a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston.
"Our findings regarding the intermediate metabolites are at the moment intriguing but further studies are needed to confirm their causal role in the associations of plant-based diets and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes," Hu and his co-authors concluded.
Cases of type 2 diabetes in adults worldwide have tripled in less than two decades — to more than 450 million in 2019 from 150 million in 2000. By 2045, they are projected to rise to 700 million, the study authors noted in a journal news release.
Type 2 diabetes can cause complications such as heart disease and damage the kidneys, eyes and nervous system.
For more about preventing diabetes, visit the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.