Vegetarian Diet, Regular Exercise May Reduce Diabetes Risk in African Americans

Following a vegetarian diet significantly reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes in African Americans, according to new research conducted at Loma Linda University and published in the October issue of Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases. The study found that regular exercise also lowers the risk of developing the disease.

African Americans are more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes than any other population in the country, according to Serena Tonstad, MD, professor at Loma Linda University and lead author of the study. The National Institutes of Health found that African Americans are 77% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.

“A vegetarian diet may be a way to counteract the increased diabetes risk for the black population,” Dr. Tonstad said.

The research revealed that vegan African Americans reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 70 percent compared with non-vegetarian African Americans. Meanwhile, lacto-ovo (dairy-consuming) vegetarian blacks showed a 53 percent lower risk of the disease.

Why? According to Dr. Tonstad, the vegetarian diet features higher amounts of certain foods that can protect against developing type 2 diabetes. For example, fruits and vegetables contain high fiber, which has shown to reduce the risk of diabetes. Legumes and whole grains also help because they are known to improve glycemic control and decrease carbohydrate absorption rates.

Exercise may also help reduce the risk of diabetes. Dr. Tonstad’s study showed that African American participants who exercised three times or more a week had a 35 percent lower risk of developing the disease compared to those who exercised once a week or never.

Nearly 7,200 black Seventh-day Adventists participated in the study. Adventists are a religious group that advocates a vegetarian lifestyle. Researchers also studied data for more than 34,200 non-black Adventists and found that a vegetarian diet also protected that group from diabetes.

About 18.7% of all African Americans aged 20 and older have diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes compared to about 10.2 percent of all non-Hispanic whites, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Loma Linda University School of Public Health

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