Eating More Vegetables Linked to Lower Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

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Eating More Vegetables Linked to Lower Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Eating more vegetables overall is linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while a higher intake of potatoes is not linked to a higher or lower diabetes risk, according to a new study published in the journal Diabetes Care.

Many studies have looked at the link between dietary patterns and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but few of them have zeroed in on vegetables the way the latest study did. One recent study showed that women who followed a plant-based diet aimed at lowering cholesterol levels were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and other studies have shown a similar risk reduction from following a healthy plant-based diet. Research also suggests that a higher intake of phytochemcials — beneficial nutrients found in many plant foods — is linked to better blood glucose control in people with diabetes. Eating fruits and vegetables has also been linked to lower levels of perceived stress and lower risks for cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Unfortunately, most U.S. adults don’t meet recommendations for vegetable consumption.

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For the latest study, researchers looked at data from a large general health study called the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Cohort, which followed 54,793 participants for a median duration of 16.3 years. Participants with the highest total vegetable intake — the top 20%, who had a median intake of 319 grams (11.25 ounces) of vegetables per day — tended to have a lower body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account) than participants with the lowest vegetable intake, who had a median intake of just 67 grams (2.36 ounces) per day. But this difference in BMI was surprisingly small, an average of only 0.35 — on a scale in which a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 indicates a healthy weight, a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 indicates overweight, and a BMI of 30.0 or higher indicates obesity.

Highest vegetable intake linked to reduced diabetes risk

When it came to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, though, there was a more pronounced difference between participants with the highest and lowest intake of vegetables — those with the highest vegetable intake were 21% less likely to develop diabetes, after adjusting for a variety of other type 2 diabetes risk factors. Subgroups of vegetables that were linked to a lower risk of developing diabetes included leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, kale, arugula, or chard) and cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts).

When the researchers looked specifically at participants’ intake of potatoes — a vegetable high in starch, making it a suspect for higher blood glucose levels — they found that participants with the highest potato intake, a median of 256 grams (9.03 ounces) per day, were 9% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest potato intake, a median of 52 grams (1.83 ounces) per day. But this higher risk vanished once researchers adjusted for participants’ overall dietary pattern, indicating that potatoes were not the cause of this higher diabetes risk.

The researchers concluded that a higher intake of vegetables — other than potatoes — was linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a connection that could be explained only in small part by a lower BMI in participants with the highest vegetable intake.

Want to learn more about type 2 diabetes? Read “Diabetes Testing: Type 2 Diabetes,” “Type 2 Diabetes and a Healthy Family Lifestyle,” and “Welcome to Diabetes.” 

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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