Diets rich in whole grains, fish, healthy fats lower all-cause death risk for diabetes patients

Managing blood sugar is key to Type 2 diabetes (T2D) prevention and management, and diet is the simplest way to do this. Specifically, meals consisting mostly of whole grains, fiber, fish, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is the most efficient way to reduce all-cause mortality in Type-2 diabetics, according to new research.

The findings are the result of a systematic review and meta-analysis being presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) Annual Meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.

“There are some dietary recommendations and guidelines for people with Type 2 diabetes, but most are not evidence-based or are derived from studies of the general population”, says author Dr. Janett Barbaresko, from the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf. “Our rigorous assessment of the best currently available evidence indicates with reasonable certainty that eating a diet rich in whole grains, fiber, fish and PUFAs as well as consuming more vegetables and plant proteins may help people with Type 2 diabetes live longer.”

People with T2D are not only at risk of developing complications that directly stem from it — including neuropathy, nephropathy, and skin irritations — but also of cardiovascular events. Hypertension and heart disease are more prevalent in this patient population, and both are leading causes of death in the United States. Due to limited scientifically sound findings on the impact of certain foods for Type 2 diabetes, such as tea, dairy, caffeine, and meat, researchers emphasize how crucial it is for more thorough research to be conducted on this topic.

To explore these relationships more, the German scientists conducted their systematic review of 107 prospective observational studies examining an array of dietary factors like macronutrients, micronutrients, plant food compounds/antioxidants, and supplements related to all-cause death risk in adults with T2D up until June of this year.

In 45 meta-analyses, 72 studies were included to compare the effects of high versus low intake and to assess the exposure-response relationship between diet and death from any cause, over a 10-year period on average. In total, between 1,073 to 84,816 participants were included in the meta-analysis.

Their analysis suggests that there is moderate evidence to support that intake of whole grain, fiber, fish, and n-3 PUFAs, is protective against death from all causes in people with T2D. An additional one serving (20 g/day) of whole grains was linked to a 16% reduction. Additionally, weekly servings of fish was associated with a 5% decreased risk.

Likewise, consuming 5g of fiber and 0.1 g more PUFAs per day was associated with a 14% and 13% lowered risk, respectively. Many aren’t familiar with sources of PUFAS, but they are plentiful in fatty fish, walnuts and other nuts and seeds, as well as cold-pressed vegetable oils.

While these findings set a strong precedent for navigating diabetes care and prevention, the team agrees that the research shouldn’t stop here. “More research is needed to provide more robust and comprehensive evidence on different dietary factors and the progression of diabetes,” says study leader Dr. Sabrina Schlesinger, from the German Diabetes Center and the German Center for Diabetes Research. “But if individuals with Type 2 diabetes are able to add a few servings of whole grains, fibre, fish, plant oils and vegetables to their weekly diets, our results suggest it may be an easy and low-risk way to possibly improve their outcome.”

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan

Shyla Cadogan is a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and Food Science. She is on her way to becoming a Registered Dietitian, with next steps being completion of a dietetic internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Shyla has extensive research experience in food composition analysis and food resource management.

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