Improving the overall quality of one's diet helps to prevent type 2 diabetes, independent of other lifestyle changes, according to a study presented at the American Diabetes Association's 74th Scientific Sessions.
The study, by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, found that those who improved their diet quality index scores by 10 percent over four years - by eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and less sweetened beverages and saturated fats, for example - reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by about 20 percent, compared to those who made no changes to their diets. Dietary quality was measured using the 110-point Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010.
The study also examined whether improved diet was a marker of other lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or increased physical activity, or if it could independently reduce a person's risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
"We found that diet was indeed associated with diabetes independent of weight loss and increased physical activity," said lead researcher Sylvia Ley, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. "If you improve other lifestyle factors you reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes even more, but improving diet quality alone has significant benefits. This is 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."
The study also showed that it didn't matter how good or poor a person's diet was when they started out, she said. "Regardless of where participants started, improving diet quality was beneficial for all."