Diet change alone can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, new study finds

by Barbara Hewitt on June 27, 2014

People who eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less sugary drinks and saturated fats reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes by 20%, according to new research.

It is well known that improving the overall quality of one’s diet helps prevent type 2 diabetes independent of other lifestyle changes, but this latest study from the Harvard School of Public Health confirms the commonly held assumption.

low calorie diet

A healthy diet reduces the chance of diabetes, independent of weight loss and exercise

It found that those who improved their diet quality index scores by 10% over four years reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by about 20% compared to those who made no changes to their diets.

‘We found that diet was, indeed, associated with diabetes — independent of weight loss and increased physical activity,’ said lead researcher Sylvia Ley, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

‘If you improve other lifestyle factors you reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes even more, but improving diet quality alone has significant benefits. This is important, because it is often difficult for people to maintain a calorie restricted diet for a long time,’ she explained.

‘We want them to know if they can improve the overall quality of what they eat by eating less red meat and sugar sweetened beverages, and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, they are going to improve their health and reduce their risk for diabetes,’ she added.

The study also showed that it didn’t matter how good or bad a person’s diet was when they started out. ‘Regardless of where participants started, improving diet quality was beneficial for all,’ said Ley.

The study is published as new figures reveal how an alarming rise in obesity has contributed to a dramatic increase in the prevalence of diabetes in the US. An analysis by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of the prevalence of diabetes, prediabetes, and glycaemic control in 43,439 adults found the prevalence of total confirmed diabetes rose from 5.5% in the 1988 to 1994 period to 7.6% in 1999 to 2004. Prevalence rose even further from 2005 to 2010, to 9.3%.

The proportion of undiaganosed diabetes cases decreased over the study years, which the authors speculate is likely due to improvements in screening and diagnostic processes. The mean BMI of the US adult population also increased significantly over the study period, with the prevalence of obesity increasing from 21.2% from 1988 to 1994 to 32% of people without diagnosed diabetes in 2005 to 2010.

The authors suggest that the increase in diabetes rates can be explained by the increase in obesity. The authors of an accompanying editorial also attribute the increase in diabetes prevalence to dietary changes and lack of physical activity.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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