Healthy Plant-Based Diets Lower Risk of Developing Diabetes

New research finds that the consumption of healthy plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables,nuts, coffee, and legumes, is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D) in generally healthy people and support their role in diabetes prevention.

Over 90% of diabetes cases are the type 2 form, and the condition poses a major threat to health around the world. Global prevalence of the disease in adults has more than tripled in less than two decades, with cases increasing from around 150 million in 2000 to over 450 million in 2019 and projected to rise to around 700 million in 2045.

The global health burden of T2D is further increased by the numerous complications arising from the disease, such as cardiovascular disease, and microvascular issues, which damage the kidneys, the eyes, and the nervous system. The diabetes epidemic is primarily caused by unhealthy diets, having overweight or obesity, genetic predisposition, and other lifestyle factors such as a lack of exercise. Plant-based diets, especially healthy ones rich in high quality foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, have been associated with a lower risk of developing T2D but the underlying mechanisms involved are not fully understood.

The study found that compared with participants who did not develop T2D, those who were diagnosed with the disease during follow-up had a lower intake of healthy plant-based foods. In addition, they had a higher average BMI, and were more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, use blood pressure and cholesterol drugs, have a family history of diabetes, and be less physically active.

The metabolomics data revealed that plant-based diets were associated with unique multi-metabolite profiles, and that these patterns differed significantly between the healthy and unhealthy plant-based diets. In addition, metabolite profile scores for both the overall plant-based diet and the healthy plant-based diet were inversely associated with incident T2D in a generally healthy population, independent of BMI, and other diabetes risk factors, while no association was observed for the unhealthy plant-based diet.

While it is difficult to tease out the contributions of individual foods because they were analyzed together as a pattern, individual metabolites from consumption of polyphenol-rich plant foods like fruits, vegetables, coffee, and legumes are all closely linked to healthy plant-based diet and lower risk of diabetes. Our 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.

Since they only collected blood samples at one point in time, the authors also believe that long-term repeated metabolomics data are needed to understand how dietary changes relate to changes in metabolome, thereby influencing T2D risk.

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