Plant-based diets have been around for a very long time, however, it’s only in more recent times that additional attention is being paid to the benefits of adopting a predominately plant-based diet. This is especially in terms of reduced risk of chronic disease.
I have discussed plant-based diets before, but for those new to the concept, a plant-based diet means consuming primarily foods from plant sources and only consuming a small amount of animal based products (for some it may mean entirely plant-based, vegan). This dietary pattern is beneficial because plants are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and contain less trans and saturated fats compared to animal based products.
Link between plant-based diets and type 2diabetes
Globally type 2 diabetes is a major health concern and a recent study looked at the role of a plant-based diet in terms of protection against type 2 diabetes amongst adults. This systematic review and meta-analysis of 9 studies showed a greater adherence to a plant-based dietary pattern was inversely associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes. The highest adherence to a plant-based dietary pattern still included the consumption of some animal foods.
It’s important to note, the greatest benefit is when plant-based diets include fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and nuts. This is opposed to plant-based diets high in refined grains, starches and sugar. The Mediterranean diet and DASH diets are both good examples of this eating pattern.
Underlying factors, which can increase our risk of type 2 diabetes, includes obesity, insulin sensitivity, high blood pressure and inflammation (Qian et al 2019). The reason a plant-based diet may be protective against type 2 diabetes is because plants foods are high in vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants, phytonutrients and healthy fats, all of which help to reduce inflammation, improve blood pressure and insulin sensitivity and assist with weight maintenance (Qian et al 2019). In addition, the reduction in animal based products helps to reduce our intake of saturated fats, which is associated with increased risk of chronic disease.
Take home message
While only an association was drawn and not a causal link, the overall take away message from this study is – eat more plants! No matter your dietary pattern, more plants and a lower consumption of animal based products is likely to be of overall benefit to health. However, when selecting plants, quality is as important as quantity – avoid processed plant foods high in refined grains, starches and sugars and stick to whole foods as much as possible!
Reference: Qian, F et al, ‘Association Between Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, JAMA Intern Med, July 22 2019