The claim: Compared to people who made no changes to their diets, those who made an effort to eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables enjoyed a 20% drop in type 2 diabetes risk, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health.
The research: The study team measured the quality of people’s diets using a 100-point “health index” based on the government’s daily eating recommendations. (For example, women and men who eat more than the 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit a day, as the USDA advises, score a 5 out of 5 on that portion of the health index.) After four years, people who improved their health index score by 10% lowered their risk for type 2 diabetes by 20%—regardless of how healthy they ate at the start of the study.
What it means: It’s probably not a huge surprise that eating right could help you fend off diabetes. But this was a little surprising: Even if the study participants neglected to exercise and didn’t lose any weight, their risk for the disease still fell, said study co-author Sylvia Ley, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow, while presenting her research at an annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association. “If you improve other lifestyle factors, you reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes even more, but improving diet quality alone has significant benefits,” Ley explained.
The bottom line: “If [people] can improve the overall quality of what they eat...they are going to improve their health and reduce their risk for diabetes," Ley added. Specifically, she said consuming less red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages (like soda) while eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains was the best diet strategy for lowering your risk for diabetes. (If you exercise and keep your weight under control, your risk drops even more, the Harvard research shows.)