EUROPE – Consumption of healthy plant-based foods lowers risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a new study published in the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) has found.  

Type 2 diabetes is a global health concern with more than 90% of all diabetes cases around the world falling into this category. 

Global prevalence has tripled over the last 20 years. In 2000, around 150 million people had type 2 diabetes and by 2045, it is estimated this figure will have risen to 700 million.  

Eating plant-based diets, notably those rich in whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, is however believed to lower risk of type 2 diabetes.  

Until now, that association has not been fully understood with researchers still at loss as to whether plasma metabolite profiles related to plant-based diets reflect this association or not.  

In the study, researchers from Harvard University’s Department of Nutrition, conducted an analysis of blood plasma samples and dietary intake of 10,684 participants from three prospective cohorts.  

Participants were asked to complete food frequency questionnaires, which were scored according to their adherence to three plant-based diets: an overall plant-based diet index, a healthy plant-based diet index, and an unhealthy plant-based diet index.  

Whether a diet was classified as healthy or unhealthy depended on foods’ association with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other conditions, including obesity and high blood sugar. 

 ‘Healthy’ foods, for example, included whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, and tea/coffee while ‘Unhealthy’ foods included refined grains, fruit juices, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sweets/desserts.  

Blood samples taken in the early phase of the three studies were analysed to compare with any cases of type 2 diabetes identified during the follow-up period.  

The researchers found that those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the follow-up had a lower intake of healthy plant-based foods, compared to those who did not develop the disease. 

 They also had a higher average BMI and were more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, have a family history of diabetes, and be less physically active. 

 In conclusion, the study authors noted that their findings support the beneficial role of healthy plant-based diets in diabetes prevention and provide new insights for future investigation.  

“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.”  

Specifically, the researchers believe that long-term repeated metabolomics data would help to better understand how dietary changes relate to changes in metabolome, thereby influencing type 2 diabetes risk. 

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