This Type of Diet Could Reduce Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

By: Ally Sorrells

A new study from Harvard University says following a healthy plant-based diet could reduce your risk of developing this chronic disease.

With all of the health benefits that come from a plant-based diet, it's no surprise that many people have been shying away from meat (even if it's just for #MeatlessMonday). Adhering to a diet composed of mostly whole grains, fruits and vegetables has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease and a healthier environment, and according to a new meta-analysis from Harvard T.H. Chan of Public Health, a plant-based diet may also lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Although previous studies have linked a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes with a plant-based diet, the epidemiological study from Harvard University provides the most comprehensive evidence thus far. The researchers analyzed nine studies with data from 307,099 individuals—of which 23,544 had type 2 diabetes—and the results are promising.

Although many people associate a plant-based diet with vegetarianism or veganism, the study analyzed an "overall" predominantly plant-based diet. Translation? These diets were mainly composed of healthy plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and starches—but they also contained some animal products (so you don't have to commit to going completely meat-free to reap the health benefits!)

After analyzing the data, researchers claimed individuals with the highest adherence to these type of plant-based diets were the least likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Participants who strongly adhered to the diet reduced their risk by 23 percent. Conversely, those who ate more "unhealthful" plant-based foods—such as white flour, sugar, and animal products—were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Researchers link the reduced risk to the health benefits associated with plant-based diets, such as improved insulin sensitivity, reduced weight gain, and less systemic inflammation. "Overall, these data highlighted the importance of adhering to plant-based diets to achieve or maintain good health, and people should choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tofu, and other healthy plant foods as the cornerstone of such diets," said senior author Qi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition.

The Bottom Line

Adhering to a healthy plant-based diet has been shown to decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It's important to get your daily macronutrients, vitamins and minerals from a wide variety of plant-based foods, but you are not limited to only consuming fruits and vegetables. According to the study, eating a moderate amount of animal products is even acceptable in a balanced and healthy plant-based diet.