We all know that a Meat Free Monday effortlessly brightens up the start of every week, but did you also know its dazzlingly good at cutting your chances of getting a chronic disease that affects 2 million Britons and rising?
Scientists in the US have confirmed a link between eating a plant-based diet and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. The healthier the diet – swapping meat and animal products for meals packed with fruit, veg, whole grains and legumes – the stronger the link, and the more of that nutritious, planet-friendly food you eat, the better your chance of not developing the disease.
Type 2 diabetes means the body is unable to process glucose, a simple sugar. Over time, a high level of glucose in the blood can cause strokes, heart attacks and damage to organs and limbs.
Researchers at Boston’s Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, reached their conclusion by looking at nine historic studies involving a total of more than 300,000 participants. Writing in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal published by the American Medical Association, they said there was a “significant inverse association” between the disease and a healthy plant-based diet.
Obesity and lack of exercise has long been associated with the global increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes, but diets high in red and processed meat are also to blame. In 2013, researchers in Singapore found that even a small increase in red meat consumption can double the risk of developing the disease, while an average of a sausage or two bacon rashers a day increases the risk by 19 per cent.
Addressing the old trope about meat-free eaters getting fewer vital nutrients than omnivores, the Boston researchers said: “Consuming animal products is not the only way to prevent nutritional deficiencies for [nutrients] … including vitamins B12 and D and calcium, consumption of which is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
“The consumption of a balanced, plant-based dietary pattern with the inclusion of fortified foods and the use of dietary supplements can help individuals who practice a vegan or vegetarian diet meet their needs for these nutrients.”
They added that “in general populations that do not practise strict vegetarian or vegan diets, replacing animal products with healthful plant-based foods is likely to exert a significant reduction in the risk of diabetes.”
In 2014, researchers in America and Japan found that changing our diets for the better played a key role in the prevention and management of the disease, while French scientists concluded in 2013 that fruit and vegetables were vital tools in the fight against type 2 diabetes.
Doctors believe the anti-diabetic benefits of a plant-based diet may derive not only from eating less meat and other animal products, but also from an increase in nutrients such as dietary fibre and a lower risk of obesity, or a combination of these factors.
Senior author Qi Sun said the data “highlighted the importance of adhering to plant-based diets to achieve or maintain good health, and people should choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tofu, and other healthy plant foods as the cornerstone of such diets”.