These may be wonderful times to live if you are a vegetarian. A new study showcases another potential benefit of plant-based diets: a reduced diabetes risk.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that consuming a plant-based diet – particularly one that is chock-full of high-quality whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds – can be tied to a significantly lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

"This study highlights that even moderate dietary changes in the direction of a healthful plant-based diet can play a significant role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes," said lead study author and postdoc fellow Ambika Satija.

This research is said to be the first to distinguish between healthy plant-based food and less-ideal ones that comprise sweetened food items and beverages, which could spell health troubles. In addition, it explored the potential impact of some animal-based food in one’s diet.

The team followed more than 200,000 health professionals found across in the country for over two decades, having them regularly fill out questionnaires on diet, lifestyle, medical history and diagnosis of new diseases in the completion of three long-term huge studies.

They then evaluated the subjects’ diet through a plant-based diet index, where they assigned higher scores to plant-based items and lower scores to animal-derived ones.

The discovery: following a plant-based diet low in animal food sources was linked to a 20 percent lower type 2 diabetes risk versus low adherence. A healthy form of this diet was associated with a 34 percent reduced risk, while a less ideal one – which provided potatoes, refined grains and sugar-sweetened drinks – was tied to a 16 percent higher risk.

The study also found that even a modest decrease in animal-based food intake, such as slashing 6 servings to around 4 servings a day, was linked to a lower incidence of diabetes.

The authors recommended shifting one’s diet pattern from processed and red meats and other animal-derived food to plant-based ones, which are filled with antioxidants, fiber, unsaturated fats and other nutrients like magnesium.

Healthful plant foods are also low in saturated fats and benefit one’s gut microbiome. One’s diet also feed the bacteria in his or her gut, making it essential in promoting “good” bacteria living in the stomach.

Senior author Dr. Frank Hu, however, emphasized that a dramatic change is unnecessary – a moderate dietary shift will suffice.

“We’re talking about a small shift, that’s doable for most people. You can still include some meat, but not have it in the center of the plate,” he clarified.

The findings were detailed June 14 in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture | Flickr

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