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Can a plant-based diet lower the risk of type 2 diabetes?

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Higher adherence to a plant-based dietary pattern was associated with lower risk of developing disease. type 2 diabetes (T2D) in middle-aged adults in the United States. Increased intake of healthy plant foods, rather than decreased intake of animal foods other than red meat, was the main factor underlying the inverse association.


  • The study participants were 11,965 adults aged 45 to 64 years. atherosclerosis Community Risk (ARIC) Study of People Who Didn’t Have Diabetes at Baseline and Completed a Meal Frequency Questionnaire.
  • Adherence to a plant-based diet was categorized overall by plant-based diet index (PDI) and higher healthy PDI (hPDI) index and higher unhealthy PDI (uPDI) index.


  • The average total daily intake of plant and animal foods for the highest quintile (5) was 15.1 and 3.4 servings per day, respectively, compared to that for the lowest quintile (1). The average consumption was 9.9 and 5.8 servings per day, respectively.
  • During a median follow-up of 22 years, 35% of participants (n = 4208) developed T2D.
  • After controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, energy intake, education, income, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, and margarine intake, people in PDI quintile 5 were more likely to have T2D than those in quintile 1. The risk of developing the disease was significantly lower (hazard ratio, 0.89; P = .01).
  • As a continuous score, we found that each 10-point increase in PDI score significantly reduced T2D risk by 6% (P = .01).
  • Higher hPDI scores were inversely associated with T2D risk (hazard ratio, 0.85 for quintiles 5:1; 0.85 for quintiles 5:1; P < .001), and (0.90 higher for every 10 units). P < .001).
  • Regardless of adjustment, higher uPDI scores were not significantly associated with diabetes risk (P >.05).
  • The association between plant-based diet score and diabetes did not differ by gender, age, race, or body mass index (BMI) after accounting for multiple comparisons (all comparisons) PAlternating current >.05).
  • Further adjustment for BMI attenuated the association between an overall, healthy plant-based diet and diabetes risk, suggesting that lower obesity may partially explain the favorable association.

in fact:

“Focusing on plant-based foods may be an effective dietary strategy to delay or prevent the onset of diabetes.”


The study was conducted by Valerie K. Sullivan, Ph.D., and researchers at the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Published online in diabetes care.


Limitations included self-reported dietary intake, diets assessed decades ago, potential misclassification of foods, potential selection bias, and residual confounding.


The ARIC study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors have no further disclosures.

Miriam E. Tucker is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, DC area. She is a regular contributor to her Medscape, and her other work has also appeared in the Washington Post, NPR’s Shots blog, and her Diabetes Forecast magazine.she is on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MiriamETucker

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