Research conducted by the Center for Public Health at the Medical University of Vienna has identified improvements in metabolism as well as liver and kidney function when a healthy plant-based diet is consumed. The study, led by Dr. Tilman Kühn, professor of public health nutrition at the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna, found that a healthy plant-based diet reduces the risk of diabetes by 24%, even in the presence of a genetic predisposition and other risk factors for diabetes such as obesity, advanced age and lack of physical activity.
What did the study consist of?
The research, published in the journal Diabetes & Metabolism, involved 113,097 participants, aged 40 to 69, in a large-scale UK cohort study (UK Biobank) over a twelve-year observation period. Associations between healthy and unhealthy plant indices (hPDI and uPDI) and type 2 diabetes risk were analyzed by multivariate Cox regression models, followed by causal mediation analyzes to investigate which cardiometabolic risk factors explained the associations observed.
Of the 113,097 study participants, 2,628 developed type 2 diabetes over a 12-year period. Participants with the highest hPDI scores had a 24% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This association was mediated by lower BMI, lower waist circumference, and lower HBA1c (mean blood glucose) concentrations. . Higher uPDI scores were associated with a 37% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with higher waist circumference, higher BMI and higher triglyceride concentrations potentially playing a mediating role.
The study concluded that a healthy plant-based diet could help protect against type 2 diabetes, via decreased body fat, normoglycemia (normal blood sugar concentration), lower basal inflammation and improved kidney and liver function.
“We were surprised to find that several factors other than fat mass alone explained the associations between a healthy diet and lower risk of diabetes. Although obesity remains the most important risk factor for diabetes, we found it interesting that better kidney function, for example, can have beneficial effects on diet,” Dr. Kühn told FoodNavigator.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Formerly called “non-insulin dependent,” type 2 diabetes affects the way the body uses sugar (glucose) for energy and prevents it from using insulin properly. This can lead to high blood sugar levels if left untreated. Over time, type 2 diabetes can cause serious damage to the body, especially to nerves and blood vessels. This type of diabetes was previously seen only in adults, but is now appearing more and more frequently in children.
More than 33 million people in the EU have diabetes. According to data from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the absolute number of diabetics in the EU will increase from around 33 million in 2010 to 38 million in 2030.
What you eat matters
The positive results were based on eating a healthy plant-based diet, including plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Conversely, there is an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes when consuming an unhealthy plant-based diet, with a high proportion of sweets, refined grains and sugary drinks.
When asked if the study included plant-based meat alternatives, Dr. Kühn replied: “We were not able to evaluate meat and dairy alternatives in our analyzes. Currently, there is a complete lack of data from population studies on the consumption of these products in relation to health consequences. Indeed, alternatives to meat and dairy products constitute a rather new trend.
He continued: “Many of these foods are ultra-processed, even though the products on the market are very diverse. More research is needed on consumption patterns and health in the real world.
Dr. Kühn and his team plan to further study different types of plant-based foods to better understand how they relate to this research and whether they are healthy or unhealthy. “We are planning further studies with a more detailed assessment of current plant-based eating habits. Quality and health aspects of dairy products and meat alternatives will be a key area of our future work.
However, it is important to also understand that a plant-based diet does not mean eating only plant products, as the British Nutrition Foundation explains: “although you may think of plant-based diets as vegetarian or vegan, they are not necessarily required. be only plant-based. Such diets do not necessarily have to completely exclude animal foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, but proportionately more foods are chosen from plant sources. Other examples of plant-based diets include the Mediterranean diet and the Nordic diet.
How might this research affect dietary guidelines?
Research and innovation on diabetes and associated factors such as obesity has been a long-standing priority of the European Union (EU) over the past decade, with more than €1.25 billion invested in research projects. “With the exception of genetic diseases or specific types of diabetes (such as type 1 diabetes), it is often a chronic disease that is preventable through a healthy lifestyle starting in childhood,” says the Commission. European.
“Our study is fully consistent with existing dietary recommendations such as the Eatwell Guide,” added Dr. Kühn. “However, studies show that it is difficult for many people to adopt such recommendations into their daily lives.
“Future nutrition policies focused on better food environments to facilitate healthy choices are needed in addition to dietary guidelines. »
Source: Healthy plant-based diet is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes via improved metabolic status and organ function: a prospective cohort study
Online: November 28, 2023
Authors: Alysha S. Thompson, Catharina J. Candussi, Anna Tresserra-Rimbau, Amy Jennings, Nicola P. Bondonno, Claire Hill, Solomon A. Sowah, Aedín Cassidy, Tilman Kühn