The importance of eating a healthy plant-based diet to prevent type 2 diabetes has been emphasised in a new Singapore study.
Greater intakes of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and lower intake of red meat and sweetened drinks were associated with reduced type 2 diabetes risk.
However, while this epidemiological study – the study of how often health conditions occur in different groups of people and why – can be used to provide some general population-wide associations as to which trends of eating are better for people, studies such as this are less effective at providing conclusions as to which individual food groups are right for people.
This criteria does embrace some excellent healthy eating principles, however fruits and whole grains are known to contain higher amounts of carbohydrate, which can increase blood glucose levels. These foods can therefore require more insulin production which can negatively impact people at risk of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers, from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and Duke-NUS Medical School, looked at five different dietary patterns in this study. The patterns were mainly based around eating plant-based foods with minimally processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.
The study involved collecting health data from more than 45,500 middle-aged and elderly participants who did not have type 2 diabetes between 1993-1998. The participants were then asked to report their intake of food based on 165 items and were scored on how this related to one of the dietary patterns.
At an 11-year follow-up the researchers found 5,207 people had been diagnosed with diabetes. Those who scored in the top 20% of the high-quality dietary patterns had a 16-29% reduction in developing type 2 diabetes when compared to those in the lowest 20%.
Professor Rob van Dam, NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, and senior author of the publication, said: “Our results are consistent with studies in other populations that a high-quality diet defined by an abundance of minimally processed plant foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts and legumes, but restricted intake of red and processed meat, and sweetened beverages were significantly associated with lower risk of diabetes.”
Benedict Jephcote, Editor of Diabetes.co.uk, said: “In interpreting the study, we need to understand the context of the comparators. In general, many studies that show eating a greater intake of whole grains and lower intake of red meat as healthier can provide this association because the average person in the study is not eating healthily.
“People who eat whole grains typically have lower intakes of refined carbohydrate and sugar. Whole grain eaters are more likely to be health conscious and live a healthier lifestyle that typically includes lower likelihood of smoking and higher likelihood of taking physical activity. Meanwhile, a majority of red meat eaters tend not to be so health conscious and can have higher than average intakes of sugar, processed foods, alcohol and may also be less to take activity and to smoke more.
“It is for these reasons that epidemiological should not be used to state that one food group is necessarily better for us than another.”
The findings have been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Author’s note: While the principles of the dietary recommendations in this study are not entirely low carb, the message of eating plant-based foods and foods with minimal processing is very positive. Our Low Carb Program, which has helped people with prediabetes avoid developing type 2 diabetes, focuses on eating a real-food diet and discourages higher carb consumption. Earlier this month, the Low Carb Program app was accepted in the NHS apps library.