Replacing Meat With Fruits and Grains Reduces Type-2 Diabetes Risk, Study Finds

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A recent study found a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes when it replaces conventional processed or red meat.

The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, investigated whether replacing processed and red meat intake with plant-based foods could lower the risk of incident type-2 diabetes (T2D) in Finnish individuals.

“Diabetes is a significant public health concern, and its prevalence has been steadily increasing globally over the past decades,” the researchers wrote in the study. “In 2019, approximately 463 million adults were living with diabetes and the prevalence is projected to reach 10.9 percent (700 million) by 2045.”

The findings

The study, which utilized data from five different cohorts of Finnish individuals aged 25 and older, found that partially substituting processed meat products and red meat with fruits, cereals, and nuts could slightly reduce the risk of new-onset T2D among males. According to the researchers, no previous study has focused on plant-based substitutes or has included vegetables or fruits in their meat substitution models on T2D risk. 

The research aimed to examine the impact of dietary transitions from animal to plant-based diets on the risk of incident T2D, as diets rich in processed and red meat are known to be environmentally unsustainable and increase the risk of new-onset T2D among other health risks. Fiber-rich plant-based diets, on the other hand, protect against diabetes and a range of other health issues including heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer.

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The researchers looked at data from 41,662 Finnish individuals for the study. Health measures, serological assessments of serum samples, and self-documented questionnaires were used to assess participants’ health, with data linked to the health registries of Finland.

Individuals with T2D at study initiation were excluded from all analyses, and the individuals were followed up for a median of 11 years, during which 1,750 cases of new-onset T2D were reported.

The study found that slightly significant decreases in new-onset T2D risks were observed among those who had partially substituted processed meat products and red meat with fruits, as well as wheat, barley, oat, and rye cereals. However, substituting meat intake with vegetables and legumes did not yield similar findings.

Plant-based benefits

According to the researchers, the protective effect of fruits against T2D may be due to the rich polyphenol and fiber content in fruits. Body weight associated with high consumption of fruits may also factor in. The high level of whole grain intake is associated with lower fasting insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity, which was likely regulated by the high fiber content in whole grains and constituent vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

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The researchers say it’s worth noting that the stronger relationships between plant-based food intake and lowering of T2D risk were observed among males, which could be due to the higher meat consumption and lower plant-based food consumption tendencies among men, who made up nearly 80 percent of the study participants.

The study’s findings are in line with existing research on the benefits of a plant-based diet in reducing the risk of T2D, and the researchers say their new findings suggest similar associations for red meat or processed meat substitutions with fruits. “These associations were particularly seen in men. “These findings indicate that a shift towards more sustainable diets may also be beneficial in terms of T2D prevention.”


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