There is even more evidence that vegan diet has significant health benefits, particularly when it comes to maintaining a healthy metabolism and blood sugar levels.
According to a study published April 8 in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, a plant-based diet rich in specific nutrients called polyphenols may help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers examined data from 10,684 participants, the majority of whom were white, middle-aged healthcare professionals. The data that the researchers focused on were metabolites, which are chemical compounds produced by the human body as it breaks down food for energy, which can vary depending on the type of diet a person consumes. Researchers were able to determine which eating habits were associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes by comparing metabolites and health outcomes during the study.
People who ate a diet high in plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, nuts, coffee, and legumes were less likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those who ate more animal-based or processed foods.
According to Dr. Frank Hu, senior author of the study and chair of the nutrition department at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the findings are supported by a wealth of previous evidence suggesting vegan and vegetarian diets are good for us.
“The findings are not surprising given the well-documented health benefits of healthy plant-based foods,” Hu told Insider.
Understanding the relationship between specific compounds and plant foods, he says, could help better inform which diets are healthiest for preventing diseases like diabetes.
Polyphenols are beneficial nutrients found in foods such as grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, and coffee.
The study found that not all plant-based diets were equally beneficial. Researchers discovered that diets high in more processed plant-based foods such as refined grains, fruit juice, potatoes, and sweets were not associated with a lower risk of diabetes.
Based on metabolite data, the findings suggest that polyphenols, which are found in whole plant foods, may account for the health benefits of certain plant-based diets.
Whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, as well as coffee, are all associated with a healthy plant-based diet in the study and are high in polyphenols.
Coffee, for example, contains high levels of trigonelline, a compound linked to improved insulin sensitivity in some studies. Hippurate is another compound linked to coffee consumption, as well as whole grains and fruit, and it has been linked to more stable blood sugar.
According to Hu, further research into metabolites such as hippurate and trigonelline could eventually help experts understand how different plant-based diets influence disease risk and how certain diets may help prevent diabetes. For the time being, the evidence suggests that eating plenty of unprocessed plants and limiting processed foods and added sugars, even if they are technically plant-based, is your best bet for good health.
“When adopting a plant-based diet, we recommend that consumers choose healthy plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts,” he said. “Reduce your intake of unhealthy plant foods like refined grains like white bread and pizza, as well as high glycemic foods like sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.”