And maybe more importantly—what does that mean for you meat-lovers out there?


  • According to a new meta-analysis, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, consuming a largely plant-based diet can help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • However, you don’t have to nix animal-based foods completely—good-for-you options like poultry, fish, and eggs can still be moderately consumed without upping your type 2 diabetes risk.

You already know that eating a generally healthy diet—hey, everything in moderation!—can help prevent type 2 diabetes. But new research out of Harvard University has taken it a step further, investigating exactly which types of foods are best for lowering your risk. As it turns out, following a mostly plant-based diet is key.

The meta-analysis, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, reviewed a total of nine previous studies, which included 307,099 people and 23,544 cases of type 2 diabetes. Researchers took a look at everyone’s dietary patterns, particularly whether or not they consumed a higher amount of plant-based foods—like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts—versus animal-based foods—like poultry or fish.

Their findings? Those who consumed a largely plant-based diet were 23 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate more meat in their daily lives. According to study coauthor Frank Qian, M.P.H., of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health department of nutrition, there are a few potential reasons why this might be.

The first, he said, has to do with the fact that minimally-processed plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds seem to be beneficial for long-term weight control.

“High body weight or body mass index (BMI) is one of the strongest risk factors for the development of type 2 diabetes, and plant-based diets seem especially promising not just for short-term weight loss but also for preventing excessive weight gain in the long run,” he told Bicycling.

The second reason, according to Qian, is that plant sources of protein and fat—specifically monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat—have been shown reduce inflammation, improve gut health, and balance your body’s levels of glucose and insulin. Issues with all of these have been “implicated in the development of [type 2] diabetes.”

It’s important to note that this study looked at the benefits of consuming mostlyplant-based foods—the key word being “mostly.”

“The vast majority of participants included in our analysis were not strict vegetarians,” Qian said. “Even those who had the highest adherence to a plant-based dietary pattern still consumed on average one to two servings of animal-based foods per day.”

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However, Qian cautions, just like eating healthy plant-based foods—like quinoa as opposed to refined grains like cookies—is important, eating healthy animal-based foods is equally important.

“It would be prudent to avoid poor-quality animal foods—especially processed meats—and not consume high amounts of red meat, both of which has been related to a significantly elevated risk of developing [type 2] diabetes,” he said.

The bottom line is this: A largely plant-based diet is beneficial in combatting your risk of type 2 diabetes, but no need to go cold-turkey (pun intended) on meat if you enjoy it—including moderate amounts of healthy animal-based foods like fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs in your diet can still lower your odds of the disease.

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