Rx Nutrition Resource Center

Rx Nutrition Resource Center

March 15, 2019
2 min read

Vegetarian diet may lower risk for type 2 diabetes

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Healthy British adults who reported consuming little or no red meat were 11% to 36% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes during nearly 2 decades of follow-up vs. a large sample of red meat eaters, according to findings published in Nutrition & Diabetes.

Keren Papier, PhD,

“Our results indicate that low- and non-meat diets are associated with a lower risk of diabetes in this population,” Keren Papier, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist in the cancer epidemiology unit at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and colleagues wrote. “Lower BMI in low- and non-meat eaters appears to be at least partially responsible for this protective association.”

Papier and colleagues analyzed data from 45,314 adults without diabetes at baseline, recruited between 1993 and 2001 to participate in the EPIC-Oxford study, a prospective investigation of health outcomes in relation to diet in the United Kingdom. Participants completed questionnaires on diet, lifestyle, health and family medical history and were followed for a mean of 17.6 years. The cohort included 7,421 adults recruited from general practitioners and 37,883 adults recruited by mail who considered themselves vegetarian, vegan or otherwise interested in diet and health. Diabetes diagnoses and causes of death were assessed via linked hospital and death records through March 2016. Researchers used Cox proportional hazard models to assess the associations between diet groups and incidence of diabetes.

Within the cohort, 15,181 adults were regular meat eaters, 7,615 were considered low-meat eaters, 7,092 were considered fish eaters and 15,426 were considered vegetarians. During follow-up, researchers observed 1,224 incident cases of diabetes, with 11 of the cases first noted at death.

Compared with regular meat eaters, researchers found that low-meat eaters had a lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes (HR = 0.63; 95% CI, 0.54-0.75), as did fish eaters (HR = 0.47; 95% CI, 0.38-0.59) and vegetarians (HR = 0.63; 95% CI, 0.54-0.74). However, in models adjusting for BMI, researchers found that diabetes risk was attenuated; HR was 0.78 (95% CI, 0.66-0.92) for low-meat eaters, 0.64 for fish eaters (95% CI, 0.51-0.8) and 0.89 for vegetarians (95% CI, 0.76-1.05).

In sex-specific analyses of nutrient intake and diabetes risk, researchers found that higher intake of added sugars was associated with a 38% increased risk for diabetes when comparing highest vs. lowest quintiles of sugar intake (95% CI, 1.14-1.67; P for trend < .001). Overall energy intake, carbohydrate, starch, protein and fat intake were not associated with diabetes risk, according to researchers.


“We found that people consuming a low- or meat-free diet had a lower risk of hospitalization or death with diabetes and that this was at least partly attributable to these diet groups having a lower BMI than regular meat eaters,” the researchers wrote. “Further research is needed to examine the role of low-meat and non-meat diets in other ethnic groups and to determine (using genetic variants, for example) whether meat is causally related to the development of (type 2) diabetes.” – by Regina Schaffer

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.