Type 2 Diabetes Patients on Plant-Based, Low-Carb Diets May Live Longer

Diet is key in managing type 2 diabetes and staving off complications. A recent large study finds that certain dietary choices may also lead to a longer lifespan for type 2 diabetes patients.

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently investigated the impact of different low-carbohydrate diets on the longevity of type 2 diabetes patients, finding that such diets were linked with a lower risk of premature death, especially if they focused on plant-based foods. The findings were published online in the journal Diabetes Care.


Yang Hu, lead author and research associate in the Department of Nutrition, says, “While avoiding refined and highly-processed carbohydrates has been widely recommended to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, our study provides the first empirical evidence on how low-carb diets can help manage the progression of existing diabetes.”

To conduct their research, the team looked at 34 years of health data from more than 10,000 men and women participating in two long-term studies. All of them developed type 2 diabetes after their respective studies began. Every two years, they filled out lifestyle and medical history questionnaires. The researchers used these answers to break down the composition of participants’ diets, with a focus on animal proteins and fats, vegetable proteins and fats, high-quality carbohydrates, and low-quality carbohydrates.

The team found that those with a low-carb diet had a 24% lower rate of all-cause mortality. The number was even better for those who mostly ate plant-based foods and high-quality carbs, like fruits, veggies, and whole grains. This group also saw lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. However, there was not a significantly lower mortality rate among those with a low-carb diet who ate more animal products and lower quality carbs like potatoes, added sugars, and refined grains.


Qi Sun, senior author and associate professor in the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology, says, “This study, once again, underscores the importance of diet quality when choosing among various diets for diabetes control and management.”

The study also found the most health benefits among those who followed other healthy habits, like regularly exercising, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation, while sticking to the plant-based, low-carb diet.

The American Diabetes Association has resources outlining the best foods for type 2 diabetes management. Those mirror the results of this study, as they highlight certain fresh fruits and non-starchy veggies, whole grains, and legumes. You can read the whole list here.

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