Introduction: Vegetarian diets have been shown to improve glucose metabolism and reduce risk for diabetes in Westerners but whether Chinese vegetarian diets have the same benefits is unknown.
Methods: We evaluated the association between diet and diabetes/impaired fasting glucose (IFG) among 4384 Taiwanese Buddhist volunteers and identified diabetes/IFG cases from a comprehensive review of medical history and fasting plasma glucose.
Results: Vegetarians had higher intakes of carbohydrates, fiber, calcium, magnesium, total and non-heme iron, folate, vitamin A, and lower intakes of saturated fat, cholesterol, and vitamin B12. Besides avoiding meat and fish, vegetarians had higher intakes of soy products, vegetables, whole grains, but similar intakes of dairy and fruits, compared with omnivores. The crude prevalence of diabetes in vegetarians versus omnivores is 0.6% versus 2.3% in pre-menopausal women, 2.8% versus 10% in menopausal women, and 4.3% versus 8.1% in men. Polytomous logistic regression adjusting for age, body mass index, family history of diabetes, education, leisure time physical activity, smoking and alcohol, showed that this vegetarian diet was negatively associated with diabetes and IFG in men (OR for diabetes: 0.49, 95% CI: 0.28-0.89; OR for IFG: 0.66, 95% CI: 0.46-0.95); in pre-menopausal women (OR for diabetes: 0.26, 95% CI: 0.06-1.21; OR for IFG: 0.60, 95% CI: 0.35-1.04); and in menopausal women (OR for diabetes: 0.25, 95% CI: 0.15-0.42; OR for IFG: 0.73, 95% CI: 0.56-0.95).
Conclusion: We found a strong protective association between Taiwanese vegetarian diet and diabetes/IFG, after controlling for various potential confounders and risk factors.