450 million people suffer from diabetes around the world. A new study shows how a vegan diet can help.

A new study links a diet of plant-based whole foods to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a debilitating disease that affects 450 million people worldwide. Published in the scientific journal Diabetology, the study was led by researchers from the Department of Nutrition, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and found that the consumption of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee and legumes was associated with a lower risk of developing the type 2 diabetes.

The study included 10,684 participants from three potential cohorts (Nursing Health Study, Nursing Health Study II, and Health Professionals Follow-up Study). Participants completed food frequency questionnaires that were evaluated based on their adherence to three plant-based diets: a plant-based diet index (PDI), a healthy plant-based diet index (hPDI), and a Unhealthy Plant Based Diet Index (uPDI). The dietary indices were based on that individual’s intake of 18 food groups: healthy plant foods (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes); unhealthy plant foods (including refined grains, fruit juices and sweets / desserts); and foods of animal origin (such as fish, dairy products, eggs and meat).

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The team distinguished between healthy and unhealthy plant foods based on their existing association with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other conditions, including obesity and hypertension. Researchers tested blood samples taken during the early stages of the study in the late 1980s and 1990s to create metabolite profile scores and tested them for any incidence of type 2 diabetes to determine correlations between dietary factors. specific and risk of developing the disease.

The researchers found that participants who developed type 2 diabetes in the follow-up period had lower food intake in the “healthy plant-based” category, along with lower PDI and hPDI scores. These participants also had higher BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol and used medications to treat these problems. They also tended to be less physically active and had a family history of diabetes.

“Although it is difficult to identify the contributions of individual foods because they have been analyzed together as a model, the individual metabolites resulting from the consumption of polyphenol-rich plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, coffee and legumes are all closely linked to a healthy plant. diet-based diet and lower risk of diabetes, ”said Professor Frank Hu, who led the study, in a statement.


Diabetes and whole foods, plant-based diet

The prevalence of type 2 diabetes has tripled globally in the past two decades, with cases growing from 150 million in 2000 to over 450 million in 2019. The debilitating disease is projected to affect more than 700 million people by 2045. The diabetes epidemic is fueled by unhealthy diets filled with animal products and other lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise.

Although this study is based on data that a diet free of animal products is linked to a lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes, it also distinguishes between the types of plant-based foods that could reduce the risk of developing the disease. By examining the metabolomics, or the comprehensive analysis and identification of all the different metabolites present within a biological sample, the researchers found that plant-based diets were associated with unique multimetabolite profiles. However, the patterns differed significantly between the healthy and unhealthy plant-based groups. While plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets were associated with a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes, the same was not true of unhealthy plant-based diets.

Furthermore, by regulating the levels of particular intermediate metabolites, including trigonellin, hippurate, isoleucine and a small set of triacylglycerols (TAGs), the association between plant-based diets and type 2 diabetes has largely disappeared, suggesting that these metabolites could play a key role in linking such diets to disease incidence.

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How does diet feed disease? More research is needed

Although this study has established that a diet based on plant-based whole foods is linked with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, more research on specific nutrient profiles is needed to understand how the diet feeds the disease. The study participants were also predominantly middle-aged white men (with 54 as the mean age), with an average BMI of 25.6 kg / m2, so more diversity in participants is needed to get more information. Additionally, since blood samples were only collected at a certain point in time, a long-term metabolomic analysis would lead to a greater understanding of how diet and type 2 diabetes are interrelated.

“Our findings support the beneficial role of healthy plant-based diets in diabetes prevention and provide new information for future investigation,” the study authors concluded. “Our findings on intermediate metabolites are currently intriguing, but further studies are needed to confirm their causal role in the associations between plant-based diets and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

This study continues to build on a growing body of evidence that not only can a plant-based diet help reduce the chances of developing type 2 diabetes, it can also help alleviate its symptoms. One person with first-hand experience is New York City Mayor Eric Adams. The politician was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and suffered partial loss of vision and mobility and received a prognosis from his doctor that he would likely lose his fingers and toes due to nerve damage. Adams switched to a whole food diet in 2016 and reversed these symptoms and others.


To share his experience of recovering health through a plant-based diet, Adams was instrumental in bringing several initiatives to New York, as mayor (supporting Vegan Fridays in New York public schools); his previous role as Brooklyn borough president (through a medical program focused on plant-based nutrition); and as a private citizen (by author Finally healthy: a plant-based approach to preventing and reversing diabetes and other chronic diseases).

For more information on the health benefits of a plant-based diet, read:
Vegan tips for preventing, reversing and managing diabetes
Long-term consequences of a keto diet? Heart disease, diabetes and cancer
This mother reversed her diabetes through veganism

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