People who follow a predominantly vegan diet may have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Recent research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggests that plant-based diets may be beneficial in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.
Nutritional researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analysed data from over 300,000 participants. They found those who stuck to a plant-based diet reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 23%.
Of course, following a vegan diet doesn't mean it is inherently healthy. There are plenty of less nutritious vegetarian foods, such as fast food meat equivalents, which contain high levels of fat and sugar. The study showed that participants who ate a healthier version of the plant-based diet, which focused on fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, reduced their risk by a further 30%.
Dr Qi Sun, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the paper, said: "Overall, these data highlighted the importance of adhering to plant-based diets to achieve or maintain good health, and people should choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tofu, and other healthy plant foods as the cornerstone of such diets."
Not all experts agree with the findings, however. Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition and dietetics, King's College London, said: "Generally, vegetarians are lighter than meat-eaters and they eat more whole grains - both factors that would decrease the risk of developing diabetes. Paradoxically, the incidence of type 2 diabetes is high in South Asian vegetarians in the UK who follow their diet for religious reasons. It is uncertain why type 2 diabetes is so prevalent in South Asians and it may have its origins in early development. Consequently, the avoidance of meat does not necessarily reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes."
Dr Emily Burns, head of research communications at Diabetes UK, said: "More research is needed to fully understand how plant-based diets are beneficial in helping people minimise their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and who is more likely to benefit from this approach."