Type 2 diabetes is a global epidemic, with approximately 422 million cases worldwide and a rapidly rising prevalence in middle- and low-income countries.
Dietary choices are a key driver of insulin resistance, especially in an aging, more sedentary population.
Increases in consumption of calorie-dense foods, such as fast foods, meats and other animal fats, highly refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages, are thought to play a critical role in type 2 diabetes worldwide.
Thus, lifestyle changes, particularly diet, can be highly effective in preventing, treating, and even reversing type 2 diabetes.
Plant-based diets―i.e., eating patterns that emphasize legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds and discourage most or all animal products―are especially potent in preventing type 2 diabetes.
These diets have been associated with much lower rates of obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular mortality, and cancer.
A whole-foods, plant-based eating pattern generally includes legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and is high in fiber. All of these elements have been found to be protective against diabetes.
Whole grains, including whole-grain bread, whole-grain cereals, and brown rice, have been associated with reduced risk of developing diabetes.
Specific fruits and vegetables, including root vegetables, green leafy vegetables, blueberries, grapes, and apples, have been linked to lower diabetes rates.
Legumes have also been shown to ameliorate insulin resistance and protect against metabolic syndrome.
Greater nut consumption has been associated with lower diabetes risk. Cereal fiber appears to be especially protective against type 2 diabetes.
Diets based on whole plant foods not only maximize protective foods, but they also exclude key animal-based foods that tend to promote insulin resistance, particularly processed and unprocessed red meat.
In addition, high-carbohydrate, low-fat, predominantly vegetarian diets are often associated with weight loss, which can reduce type 2 diabetes risk.
Plant-based diets can also reduce diabetes-related complications, such as heart disease, renal disease, and neuropathy.