Healthy eating guidelines strongly feature plant-based foods at their core for good reasons. Now research has found that following a mostly plant-based diet is linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Plant-based foods are consistently linked with good health. But not all plant-based foods could be considered healthy – sugar being a shining example. A vegetarian diet is certainly plant-based diet. But including just a small amount of animal-based foods gets someone to a mostly plant-based diet.
Being a vegetarian is not for everyone though. So researchers have asked the question of how degrees of adhering to a plant-based diet could be linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
A United States research team used lifestyle and diet information from three long-running observational studies. These studies collectively looked at the health of over 200,000 male and female adults tracked for over 20 years.
People who most closely followed a plant-based diet that featured only a few animal-based foods saw the most benefit. They had a risk of developing type 2 diabetes 20 percent lower compared to people who ate a more mixed diet.
Taking the research one step further, a plant-based diet that emphatically emphasised the most healthy and minimally processed types of plant foods was linked to a 34 percent lower risk of diabetes. Compare that to plant-based diets that were high in less healthy plant-based foods. These types of diets were only associated with a 16 lower risk of diabetes.
So what makes up a healthy plant-based diet? Plenty of wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Refined grains, desserts, fruit juices and sugar-sweetened beverages were over-represented for the less-healthy plant-based diets.
For extra motivation to make a small lifestyle shift, the research found that even making a modest change by going from 5-6 servings of animal-based foods per day to about four servings per day saw a lower risk of diabetes.
What it all means
The findings from this research are hardly surprising and agree with much of what has been studied before. And the consistent theme is that dietary patterns high in plant-based foods are linked to long-term health and chronic disease prevention. This principle is behind much of the focus of population dietary guidelines; guidelines that many wish to malign, but few actually follow (or read to their full extent).