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ADA: Improving Quality of Diet Reduces Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Consuming healthier foods improves risk independently of other lifestyle changes such as weight loss or physical activity…. 

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that patients who ate more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and less sweetened beverages and saturated fats improved their diet quality index scores by ten percent over four years. This reduced their risk for developing type 2 diabetes by about 20 percent when compared to those who made no diet changes. Additionally, the researchers observed whether an improved diet was an indicator of other lifestyle changes, including weight loss or increased physical activity, or if diet alone could reduce a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The 110-point Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010 was used to measure dietary quality.

Lead researcher Sylvia Ley, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, stated, "We found that diet was indeed associated with diabetes independent of weight loss and increased physical activity…. If you improve other lifestyle factors you reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes even more, but improving diet quality alone has significant benefits. It’s important because it is often difficult for people to maintain a calorie-restricted diet for a long time. We want them to know if they can improve the overall quality of what they eat — consume less red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages, and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — they are going to improve their health and reduce their risk for diabetes." Furthermore, study results showed that how good or poor a person’s diet was when they started out doesn’t matter. Dr. Ley said, "Regardless of where participants started, improving diet quality was beneficial for all."

Practice Pearls:
  • Improving the overall diet quality can help to prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • Eating more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and less sweetened beverages and saturated fats, helped improve patients’ diet quality index scores by ten percent over four years.
  • Whether a person’s diet at the beginning of the study was good or poor, improving their diet quality was beneficial for all.

Presented at the American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions, June, 2014