People who follow a plant-based diet are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those with a low intake of plant-based foods, academics have claimed.

Scientists from the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health have found that a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee and legumes can combat the development of type 2 diabetes.

The study set out to detect the metabolite profiles related to various plant-based diets and examine the possible connections between those profiles and the risk of developing the condition.

A metabolite is a substance made or used when the body breaks down food, drugs, chemicals or its own tissue.

Prior research has identified that global cases of type 2 diabetes have increased by 30 per cent in less than two years, with cases set to rise by a further 250 million over the next two decades.

During the study, the team of academics examined samples of blood plasma and the food intake of more than 10,000 participants, most of whom were middle-aged with a mean BMI of 25.6kg/m2.

Each participant filled in food frequency surveys to outline their plant intake. The researchers then placed the participants into one of the following groups:

  • Healthy Plant-based Diet Index (hPDI) – High intake of vegetable oil, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, tea and coffee.
  • Unhealthy Plant-Based Diet Index (uPDI) – High intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, desserts, fruit juices, refined grains and potatoes.

The participants were also divided into groups based on their connection with cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

The scientists found that the participants who went on to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes consumed a low amount of plant-based meals and a higher BMI.

Those who developed the condition were also more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Lead author Professor Frank Hu said: “While it is difficult to tease out the contributions of individual foods because they were analysed 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.”

The researchers stated: “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 casual role in the associations of plant-based diets and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

The full research study is now available in the journal Diabetologia.

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