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A healthy diet is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, regardless of genetic risk

A healthy diet that adheres to nutrition recommendations is associated with better blood glucose levels and a lower risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows. This association was observed also in individuals with a high genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a strongly genetic disease that can be prevented and delayed with a healthy lifestyle, such as diet and exercise. 

“However, we haven’t really known whether a healthy diet is equally beneficial to all, i.e., to those with a low genetic risk and to those with a high genetic risk,” Doctoral Researcher Ulla Tolonen of the University of Eastern Finland says.

The cross-sectional study examined food consumption and blood glucose levels in more than 1,500 middle-aged and elderly men participating in the broader Metabolic Syndrome in Men Study, METSIM. Food consumption was measured using a food frequency questionnaire, and blood glucose levels were measured using a two-hour glucose tolerance test. In addition, study participants’ genetic risk of type 2 diabetes was scored based on 76 genetic variants associated with type 2 diabetes risk.

The researchers identified two dietary patterns based on food consumption. A dietary pattern termed as “healthy” included, among other things, vegetables, berries, fruits, vegetable oils, fish, poultry, potatoes, unsweetened and low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese and whole grain products, such as porridge, pasta and rice. This diet was associated with, e.g., lower blood glucose levels and a lower risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

The study also explored the effect of the genetic risk of type 2 diabetes on the associations with diet and glucose metabolism. The associations of a healthy diet with better glucose metabolism seemed to hold true for individuals with both a low and a high genetic risk of diabetes. 

"Our findings suggest that a healthy diet seems to benefit everyone, regardless of their genetic risk," Tolonen concludes.

The findings were published in European Journal of Nutrition

For further information, please contact: 

Doctoral Researcher Ulla Tolonen, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland,  

Research article: Tolonen, U., Lankinen, M., Laakso, M., Schwab U. Healthy dietary pattern is associated with lower glycemia independently of the genetic risk of type 2 diabetes: a cross-sectional study in Finnish men. Eur J Nutr (2024). 12.6.2024