A plant-based diet reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by 24 percent, even if there is actually an increased genetic risk and other risk factors. Combined with a healthy lifestyle, this could even prevent more than 75 percent of all diseases caused by type 2 diabetes.
A new study involving experts from Queen’s University Belfast examined the potential mechanisms that may explain the lower risk of type 2 diabetes with healthy plant-based diets. The results are published in the specialist journal “Diabetes & Metabolism”.
Plant-based diet and diabetes
The researchers evaluated prospective data from the UK Biobank cohort study to identify possible links between the risk of type 2 diabetes and adherence to a healthy plant-based diet. They also analyzed which cardiometabolic risk factors these connections could explain.
The new study had 3,097 participants. Of these, a total of 2,628 people developed type 2 diabetes over the course of the twelve-year medical follow-up period, the team reports.
24 percent lower risk of diabetes
According to the researchers, participants who adhered most closely to a healthy plant-based diet had a 24 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those with an unhealthy plant-based diet.
The healthy plant-based diet primarily contained lots of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as high amounts of whole grain products. In contrast, an unhealthy plant-based diet includes a high proportion of sweets, refined grains and sugary drinks, the researchers explain.
A healthy plant-based diet reduces risk
According to the team, a healthy plant-based diet reduces the risk of diabetes even when there is actually a genetic predisposition and other risk factors (e.g. obesity, advanced age or lack of exercise).
This protective effect is due, among other things, to a lower body mass index (BMI), a smaller waist circumference and more favorable levels of blood lipids, blood sugar and insulin-like growth factor (IGF1).
“Our study is the first to identify biomarkers of central metabolic processes and organ functions as mediators of the health effects of a plant-based diet,” adds study author Professor Tilman Kühn in a press release.
The researchers add that at least 75 percent of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented through a healthy lifestyle, in which a plant-based diet has been shown to play a key role, but only if it contains as few highly processed and sugary foods as possible.
Liver and kidneys benefit
Another important finding of the study is how important the function of the liver and kidneys is in preventing diabetes.
“Our research has shown that a healthy plant-based diet can improve liver and kidney function and thus reduce the risk of diabetes,” emphasizes Professor Kühn. (as)