A healthy plant-based diet can reduce a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes by 24%, a new study has found.

Eating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains has this protective effect even in people with a genetic predisposition for diabetes or risk factors like obesity, advanced age or lack of physical activity, researchers report.

And for the first time, researchers identified specific health improvements from a plant-based diet that would shield a person from obesity, according to their report published in the January issue of the journal Diabetes and Metabolism.

These included improved processing of blood sugars, as well as better liver and kidney function, researchers said.

That means the protective effects of a plant-based diet go far beyond simply losing weight and dropping fat, researchers said.

“Our study is the first to identify biomarkers of central metabolic processes and organ functions as mediators of the health effects of a plant-based diet,” said lead researcher Tilman Kühn, a professor of public health nutrition at the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna in Austria.

However, researchers noted that there’s such a thing as an unhealthy plant-based diet. Those that are still high in sweets, refined grains and sugary drinks are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, researchers found.

For the study, Kuhn and colleagues reviewed data on more than 113,000 participants in a large-scale British observational study, gathered over 12 years.

They found that normal values for cholesterol, blood sugar, inflammation, and insulin are associated with a low risk of diabetes.

They also found that good liver and kidney function is important in diabetes prevention.

“Our research has now shown that a healthy plant-based diet can improve liver and kidney function and thus reduce the risk of diabetes,” Kühn said in a university news release.

More information

The Center for Nutrition Studies has more about a plant-based diet for diabetes.

SOURCE: Medical University of Vienna, news release, Dec. 11, 2023