New Research Shows Plant-Based Diets Can Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

|Updated Nov 3, 2022
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Nearly 37.3 million American adults have type 2 diabetes, or one in ten people, and 1 in 5 don't know it, which is about 8.5 million adults who remain undiagnosed. There are over 96 million adults who are walking around with pre-diabetes, a condition that can lead to full-blown type 2 diabetes if unchecked. The sliver of good news is that there's an effective preventative, which can help reduce the chances of developing diabetes, a new study has found, and it is as simple as switching your diet. New research suggests that the best solution to stemming the increasing diabetes cases in the United States is to follow a whole-food, plant-based diet.

Researchers examined how plant-based foods such as vegetables, whole grains, and legumes impacted the levels of inflammatory dietary Advanced Glycation End-products (or AGEs) –– a biomarker associated with chronic disease development. They compared AGEs in plant-based diets to diets that included meat and dairy products. The study found that eating plant-based foods and eliminating animal products reduced AGEs levels by 80 percent. Meanwhile, diets that included meat and dairy only reduced AGEs by 15 percent. The researchers published their findings in Dietary Science and Practice.

When proteins and fat are combined with glucose, AGEs form in the bloodstream. These compounds are directly related to inflammation and oxidative stress that increases the body's risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The connection between meat and dairy and type 2 diabetes appears to be due to the high saturated fat content of meat and dairy-laden diets.

“Simply swapping fatty meat and dairy products for a low-fat, plant-based diet led to a significant decrease in advanced glycation end-products — inflammatory compounds found to a greater degree in animal products than plants,” Hana Kahleova, MD, Ph.D., director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and lead study author, said in a statement.

Diet is directly related to AGE levels in the bloodstream. Typically, animal products contain more AGEs than plant-based foods. The researchers also pointed out that AGEs reproduce at an accelerated rate when a person experiences metabolic syndrome, which includes symptoms such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and high LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol linked to a greater risk of heart disease.

Eating Plant-Based Has Immediate Health Benefits

To conduct the study, the researchers split 244 participants who were overweight into two groups: an intervention group directed to eat a low-fat plant-based diet and a control group directed to continue their regular diets. The researchers examined the two groups over a 16-week period to measure the difference in AGE levels. The study also noted insulin sensitivity and body composition at the beginning and end of the study.

The researchers found that the plant-based group showed a 79 percent decrease in AGEs, noting that approximately 55 percent of that reduction could be ascribed to reduced meat consumption, 26 percent to reduced dairy, and 15 percent to lowered fat consumption. The study found that the majority of dietary AGEs from meat were due to white meat consumption (59 percent), followed by processed meat (27 percent).

The study also found that the decrease in AGEs led to an average weight loss of 14 pounds as well as improved insulin sensitivity.

Veganism and Diabetes

This research supports previous research suggesting that low-AGE diets can improve and lower insulin resistance as well as reduce body fat, according to the study authors. The study  joins a growing body of research indicating that plant-based diets significantly reduce the risk of diabetes. This April, researchers from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and coffee helps minimize the lifetime risk of type 2 diabetes.

“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 a healthy plant-based diet and lower risk of diabetes,” Lead Author of the Study and Professor Frank Hu said at the time.

Currently, about 90 percent of diabetes cases in the US are type 2 diabetes –– meaning related to lifestyle choices such as lack of exercise and unhealthy fat-filled diet, rather than genetic. One study found that eating red and processed meats raise diabetes risks by 33 percent.

This September, Columbia researchers set out to understand why our bodies crave fatty foods known to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease and found that our cravings are associated with a gut-brain impulse to eat more high-fat foods.

The researchers aimed to shed light on the benefits of plant-based diets. Currently, in the US,  nearly 60 percent of the daily calories children consume come from processed or fast food high in fat and added sugar and low in fiber, antioxidants, and vital nutrients.

Bottom Line: Eat Plant-Based to Reduce Diabetes Risk.

This new study provides even more evidence that eating plant-based food over meat and dairy products significantly lowers your risk of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes.

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