Healthy, plant-based diets associated with lower Type 2 diabetes risk, study finds

A healthy, plant-based diet can reduce a person's risk for diabetes, according to a new study. Photo by Tesa Photography/Pixabay
A healthy, plant-based diet can reduce a person's risk for diabetes, according to a new study. Photo by Tesa Photography/Pixabay

April 8 (UPI) -- Eating healthy, plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee and legumes, can lower a person's risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, a study published Friday by the journal Diabetologia found.

Compared with participants who did not develop Type 2 diabetes, those who were diagnosed with the disease had a lower intake of healthy plant-based foods, as well as lower scores on assessments measuring diet health, the data showed.


In addition, they had a higher average body weight and were more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, use blood pressure-lowering and cholesterol-lowering drugs, have a family history of diabetes and be less physically active, the researchers said.

"It is difficult to tease out the contributions of individual foods because they were analyzed together as a pattern," study co-author Dr. Frank Hu said in a press release.


However, "individual metabolites from consumption of polyphenol-rich plant foods like fruits, vegetables, coffee and legumes are all closely linked to ... lower risk of diabetes," said Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

The findings are based on an analysis of the metabolite profiles related to different plant-based diets, according to the researchers.

A metabolite is a substance used or produced by a living organism and includes thousands of compounds found in different foods, as well as the complex variety of molecules created as they are processed by the body, the researchers said.

Differences in the chemical makeup of the foods people consume means that an individual's diet should be reflected in their metabolite profile, and new testing technologies have enabled researchers to identify the metabolites present within a biological sample, such as blood, they said.

For this study, Hu and his colleagues analyzed blood plasma samples collected from 10,684 adults, who also provided information on their diets.

Study participants completed food frequency questionnaires that were scored according to their adherence to three plant-based diets, the researchers said.

Diet scores were based on participants' intake of healthy plant foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, and tea and/or coffee, as well as unhealthy plant foods, such as refined grains, fruit juices, potatoes and sweets, according to the researchers.


In addition, participants also were evaluated on their consumption of "animal-[based] foods," including animal fats, dairy, eggs, seafood and meat, the researchers said.

Researchers distinguished between healthy and unhealthy plant foods based on their links with Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and other conditions, including obesity and high blood pressure, they said.

Plant-based diets were associated with unique multi-metabolite profiles, and these patterns differed significantly between the healthy and unhealthy plant-based diets, the data showed.

Higher metabolite profile scores for the overall plant-based diet and the healthy plant-based diet were associated with an up to 20% lower risk for Type 2 diabetes in a generally healthy people, regardless of their weight and other risk factors for the disease, the researchers said.

The same was not true for unhealthy plant-based diets, they said.

Foods with higher levels of metabolites, such as trigonelline, hippurate, isoleucine and some triacylglycerols, also appeared to lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes, the data showed.

Trigonelline, which is found in coffee, has been found to reduce insulin resistance, or the inability of cells in the body to respond normally to the hormone insulin, the researchers said.

Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas in response to carbohydrates consumed in foods that allows glucose to enter cells, reducing blood glucose levels, which are elevated in people with diabetes, they said.


About 30 million people in the United States have Type 2 diabetes, which places them at increased risk for heart disease and certain types of cancer, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce a person's risk for the disease, the association says.

"Our findings support the beneficial role of healthy plant-based diets in diabetes prevention and provide new insights for future investigation," Hu and his colleagues wrote.

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