Importance: Accumulating epidemiologic evidence has suggested favorable associations between plant-based dietary patterns and risk of type 2 diabetes, although there is a lack of a quantitative summary of evidence substantiating this important association.
Objective: To quantitatively synthesize available prospective observational evidence on the association between plant-based dietary patterns and risk of type 2 diabetes.
Data sources: A systematic search of PubMed and MEDLINE, Embase, Web of Science, and reference lists through February 15, 2019, was conducted. Data analysis was conducted between December 2018 and February 2019.
Study selection: All prospective observational studies that examined the association between adherence to plant-based dietary patterns and incidence of type 2 diabetes among adults 18 years or older were identified.
Data extraction and synthesis: Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology guidelines for data abstraction and reporting were followed, and a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute assessment tool was used to evaluate study quality. Two authors independently conducted full-text assessments and data abstraction. Meta-analysis was conducted using the random-effects method to calculate the overall relative risk (RR) and 95% CI.
Main outcomes and measures: Level of adherence to a plant-based diet and incidence of type 2 diabetes.
Results: A total of 9 studies were identified, totaling 307 099 participants with 23 544 cases of incident type 2 diabetes. A significant inverse association was observed between higher adherence to a plant-based dietary pattern and risk of type 2 diabetes (RR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.71-0.84) in comparison with poorer adherence, with modest heterogeneity across studies (I2 = 44.5%; P = .07 for heterogeneity). Similar findings were obtained when using the fixed-effects model (RR, 0.80; 95% CI, 0.75-0.84). Consistent associations were observed across predefined subgroups. This association was strengthened when healthy plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, were included in the definition of plant-based patterns (RR, 0.70; 95% CI, 0.62-0.79). Most studies were deemed to have good quality in terms of dietary assessment, disease outcomes, and statistical adjustment for confounding factors. Using restricted cubic splines, a significant inverse linear dose-response association was identified between plant-based dietary indices and risk of type 2 diabetes.
Conclusions and relevance: Plant-based dietary patterns, especially when they are enriched with healthful plant-based foods, may be beneficial for the primary prevention of type 2 diabetes.