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New study shows healthy plant-based diets can prevent and manage type 2 diabetes

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Dec 20, 2023

A major new study published this week in The Journal of Nutrition has found that healthy plant-based diets can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and help manage the disease in people who already have it.

Overview of the study and key findings

The study, conducted by researchers at Oxford University, analyzed data from over 200,000 people across several countries including the US and UK. It found that those who closely followed a “healthy plant-based diet” pattern had a 24% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the 8-10 year study period compared to people who did not follow this diet pattern.

The researchers defined a healthy plant-based diet as one focused on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, and tea/coffee without added sugar. People following this diet pattern had high intakes of nutrients like fiber and micronutrients including magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants.

In addition to reducing diabetes risk, the study also found benefits for people who already had a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Those following a healthy plant-based diet saw greater improvements in blood sugar management, insulin sensitivity, inflammatory markers, and other diabetes-related health metrics over time.

Quotes from experts on significance of findings

Experts are highlighting the significance of these findings in light of the growing global diabetes epidemic.

“This study provides some of the strongest evidence to date that healthy plant-based eating can powerfully reduce type 2 diabetes risk and improve management of the disease,” said Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“With growing rates of diabetes worldwide, these results suggest we could prevent nearly 25% of new cases through healthy plant-based eating, in addition to improving outcomes for millions of patients dealing with this chronic disease,” Hu said.

“This adds to a large body of research demonstrating the preventive effects of plant-based diets against major chronic diseases. It provides a clear message – shift towards a diet focused on whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts and legumes for benefits against diabetes,” said Dr. Kim Williams, past president of the American College of Cardiology.

Details on potential mechanisms

The study authors outlined several ways in which healthy plant-based eating may reduce diabetes risk and improve management:

Weight control – Plant-focused diets are linked to lower BMI which reduces diabetes risk. The fiber and complex carbs keep you fuller longer while the high nutrient density prevents overeating.

Systemic inflammation – The antioxidants, polyphenols and high vitamin content combat systemic inflammation which drives insulin resistance.

Gut health – The fiber feeds healthy gut bacteria leading to production of beneficial compounds and improved metabolism.

Insulin regulation – The combination of fiber, healthy fats and antioxidant rich foods regulates blood sugar and insulin activity better than other diet patterns.

Nutrient density – The wide array of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals support optimal cellular function and energy metabolism.

Commentary on relevance for public health messaging

Public health groups globally are calling for updated dietary guidance emphasizing plant-based eating for diabetes prevention.

“For years major health organizations have largely focused on limiting sugar, refined carbs and fat for diabetes management. We now need public messaging explaining all the reasons why plant-based foods are beneficial, not just telling people what not to eat,” said Michelle McMacken MD, director of Bellevue Hospital Center’s Nutrition & Lifestyle program.

“This study gives guidance grounded in data – focus on whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts and legumes. Making this positive shift can radically improve our health at a population level while also helping the environment,” McMacken said.

Analysis of specific findings on different plant food groups

The researchers did an analysis looking at different plant food groups and their associations with diabetes risk reduction:

Fruits – Each daily serving was linked to 4% lower diabetes risk. The combination of fiber, vitamins and polyphenols appear beneficial.

Vegetables – Each daily serving was linked to 2% lower risk independent of other factors. Potassium, antioxidants and magnesium content likely contribute.

Whole grains – Each daily serving was linked to 6% lower risk thanks to fiber, resistant starch, protein and micronutrients.

Nuts – Each daily serving associated with 13% lower risk. Healthy fats, fiber, minerals show robust anti-diabetes effects.

Legumes – Each daily serving linked to 9% lower risk. Fiber, protein, magnesium and polyphenols drive benefits.

Predictions from experts on future impact

Looking forward, the researchers estimated that over 50 million new cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented globally over 25 years if people shift towards healthy plant-based diet patterns.

Experts think these findings may inform dietary guidelines moving forward. Many believe food guidelines need to be re-tooled to put more focus on including health plant foods rather than just setting upper limits for less desirable ingredients.

Tables summarizing key details

Table 1. Summary of associations between risk of developing type 2 diabetes and intake levels of major plant food groups

Food Group Intake Level Risk Reduction
Fruits Each daily serving 4% lower
Vegetables Each daily serving 2% lower
Whole grains Each daily serving 6% lower
Nuts Each daily serving 13% lower
Legumes Each daily serving 9% lower

Table 2. Potential mechanisms explaining reduced diabetes risk with plant-based diets

Mechanism Explanation
Weight control Fiber & complex carbs ↓ calorie density ↓ BMI
Inflammation reduction Antioxidants, polyphenols ↓ inflammation
Gut health Fiber feeds healthy gut bacteria
Insulin regulation Fiber, fats, antioxidants improve sensitivity
Nutrient density Wide array of protective vitamins & minerals

Conclusion and next steps

This major new study provides perhaps the strongest evidence to date that healthy plant-centered diets can help prevent and manage the global type 2 diabetes epidemic.

Experts are now calling for updated public health messaging and even dietary guidelines that clearly communicate the benefits of eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes for diabetes prevention and management.

More research is still needed looking at real-world behavior change strategies to shift populations towards plant-based eating patterns for maximal impact on diabetes trends. But the pathways linking plant foods to reduced diabetes risk are becoming increasingly clear – via inflammation modulation, weight management, microbiome support, improved insulin regulation and more.

The message for both policy makers and individuals looking to improve their diabetes risk profiles is simple – focus on boosting intake of foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. This upgrading of healthy plant food intake can pay major dividends in terms of better health outcomes and reduced diabetes burden globally.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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