Eating a plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet is significantly associated with lower risk of premature death among people with type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published in the medical journal Diabetes Care.
The researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health say it is the first prospective cohort study to examine the relationship between low-carb diet patterns and mortality among people with diagnosed type 2 diabetes. While findings showed a 24 percent reduction in all-cause mortality among those adhering to a low-carb diet, the health benefits were stronger for low-carb diets that emphasized plant-based foods and high-quality carb foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The plant-based, low-carb diets were also associated with a lower cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. Low-carb diets that emphasized animal products and low-quality carbohydrates, such as potatoes, added sugars, and refined grains, were not significantly associated with lower mortality.
“While avoiding refined and highly-processed carbohydrates has been widely recommended to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, our study provides the first empirical evidence on how low-carb diets can help manage the progression of existing diabetes,” lead author Yang Hu, research associate in the Department of Nutrition, said in a statement.
Healthy diet and lifestyle key to better health
For the study, the researchers analyzed 34 years of health data from 7,224 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and 2,877 men participating in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, all of whom developed type 2 diabetes after those studies began.
The participants completed questionnaires on lifestyle and medical history every other year, allowing the researchers to assess the compositions of their diets and score them according to intake of animal proteins and fats, plant proteins and fats, high-quality carbs, and low-quality carbs.
“This study, once again, underscores the importance of diet quality when choosing among various diets for diabetes control and management,” Qi Sun, senior author and associate professor in the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology, said in a statement.
In addition to finding the stronger benefits for those adhering to a plant-based, low-carb diet, the researchers observed the strongest health benefits among people who adhered to the diet and with other healthy habits, such as not smoking, regularly exercising, and drinking alcohol in moderation.
Plant-based diet lowers diabetes risk
Previous research on the link between a plant-based diet and diabetes have found benefits in preventing the disease. A study published last year in the scientific journal Diabetologia, the study found that the consumption of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, and legumes were associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Also conducted by researchers at the Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the study distinguished between healthy and unhealthy plant foods according to their existing association with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other conditions, including obesity and high blood pressure.
The researchers found that participants who developed type 2 diabetes in the follow-up period of the study had a lower intake of foods in the “healthy plant-based” category, along with having higher BMI, blood pressure, and cholesterol—and used medication to treat these issues.
“While it is difficult to tease out the contributions of individual foods because they were analyzed together as a pattern, individual metabolites from consumption of polyphenol-rich plant foods like fruits, vegetables, coffee, and legumes are all closely linked to a healthy plant-based diet and lower risk of diabetes,” Professor Frank Hu, who led the study, said in a statement.
Quinoa helps prevent diabetes
Additionally, another study published last year in the medical journal Nutrients found that regular consumption of quinoa can help prevent type 2 diabetes. Specifically, replacing high-carbohydrate foods with quinoa can help control spikes in blood sugar.
Recent studies observed that polyphenols, a type of micronutrient present in quinoa, could help to keep blood sugar levels down. This is important because those with type 2 diabetes experience blood sugar spikes after consuming carbohydrate-rich foods because their body does not produce enough insulin or fails to detect the insulin secreted by the pancreas.
“We carried out a review to find out what the scientific literature had to say about all the benefits attributed to quinoa and we found that there was no previous scientific evidence, only hypotheses, and that all the studies conducted in the past only focused on specific components or nutrients, without taking into account the food as a whole,” lead author Diana Díaz Rizzolo said in a statement.