Plant-Based Diet to Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk: Is It All or Nothing?

Trudy Voortman, PhD


October 26, 2018

Today I would like to share some of our results on plant-based dietary patterns in relation to type 2 diabetes risk, which we obtained from the Rotterdam study.[1]

As we all know, diet is a very important, modifiable determinant of risk for the development of diabetes. We know a lot about some specific nutrients and foods that are related to the disease. However, findings are inconsistent and may be related to the overall dietary pattern that underlies these associations.

It is important to take into account overall dietary patterns. One way to do that is by looking at [variations in] plant-based diets. We know that vegetarian or vegan diets are related to improved glycemic control and lower diabetes risk in the general population. However, adhering to an overall vegan or vegetarian diet may not be feasible for public health messages in most Western countries.

Therefore, we examined whether variations in the level of adopting a more plant-based and less animal-based diet would be beneficial for diabetes risk.

A Plant-Based Dietary Index

We embedded these analyses in the Rotterdam study, a large population-based cohort in the Netherlands, where almost 15,000 people were followed over time. We measured their diets at baseline.

For each participant, we scored how much they consumed of plant-based foods—such as vegetables, nuts, and legumes—and of animal-based foods, such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. We computed an overall score, with higher scores reflecting more plant-based and less animal-based foods.

When we analyzed this plant-based diet score in relation to incident diabetes and insulin resistance—controlling for body mass index, physical activity, smoking, and several other factors—we consistently found that higher scores on the plant-based dietary index were related to lower diabetes risk and lower levels of insulin resistance in the general population.

Overall, these findings strengthen current dietary recommendations that support the adoption of a more plant-based diet for lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


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