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Type 2 Diabetes Risk: To Eat Or Not To Eat Meat?

Vegetarian diet may lessen risk of type 2 diabetes…. 

Some literature has suggested that vegetarian diets may protect against type 2 diabetes due to their high fiber and whole grain content as compared to high intakes of red meats and processed items typical of Western diets. Observational studies have suggested a high intake of dietary meat intake as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

A recent study assessed the link between diet and diabetes incidence among participants in the Adventist Health Study-2. Patients included both men (n=15,200) and women (n=26,187) in the United States and Canada. All participants were diabetes-free at baseline. Information on diet, lifestyle, and anthropometrics were recorded.

Patients were identified and grouped as vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, or non-vegetarian. The non-vegetarian group served as a reference group. After two years follow up, a questionnaire was given to determine development of diabetes.

The authors found incident cases of diabetes to be lowest in vegans (0.54%), followed by semi-vegetarians (0.92%), lacto-ovo vegetarians (1.08%), pesco-vegetarians (1.29%), and non-vegetarians (2.12%). Additionally, it was found that Blacks had an increased incident risk of diabetes as compared to non-Blacks, with an odds ratio (OR) of 1.364 (95% CI= 1.093-1.702).

Researchers concluded that vegan, lacto-ovo, and semi-vegetarian diets show protection against diabetes development in non-Blacks (OR 0.429, 0.684, and 0.501, respectively). Both vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian diets showed protective benefits against diabetes development among Blacks (OR 0.304 and 0.472, respectively).

Practice Pearls:
  • Observational studies have suggested a high intake of dietary meat intake as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes
  • Incident cases of diabetes were found to be lowest in vegans (0.54%), followed by semi-vegetarians (0.92%), lacto-ovo vegetarians (1.08%), pesco-vegetarians (1.29%), and non-vegetarians (2.12%) in this study population
  • Blacks had an increased incident risk of diabetes as compared to non-Blacks, with an odds ratio (OR) of 1.364 (95% CI= 1.093-1.702)

Diabetes/Metabolism Research & Reviews 2014. [Tonstad, S. et al. Vegetarian diets and incidence of diabetes in the Adventist Health Study-2. Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases. 2013;23:292-299.]