06/16/2014 01:20 EDT | Updated 06/16/2014 01:59 EDT

Healthy Diet Is Key In Reducing Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes, Study Finds

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More fruits and vegetables and fewer sweetened beverages and saturated fats significantly decreased risk for type 2 diabetes, independent of other lifestyle changes, in a recent study.

The study, conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPS), followed 148,484 participants without diabetes at the start.

Researchers judged the quality of subjects' diet using the Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010, created by the HSPH to rival similar government sources that are still evolving after the 2011 elimination of the USDA Food Guide Pyramid.

According to the study, participants who increased their diet quality index scores by just 10 per cent over a four-year period were

20 per cent less likely to develop the disease.

Results were compared between participants who reduced their calorie intake or who increased their exercise quotient, yet the study concluded that diet quality was the most important factor in warding off type 2 diabetes.

"We found that diet was indeed associated with diabetes independent of weight loss and increased physical activity," said lead researcher Sylvia Ley, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. "If you improve other lifestyle factors you

reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes even more, but improving diet quality alone has significant benefits."

Ley was encouraged by the results, noting that increasing the quality of one's diet is easier than cutting down on calories.

"This is important because it is often difficult for people to maintain a calorie-restricted diet for a long time. We want them to know if they can improve the overall quality of what they eat -- consume less red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages, and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains -- they are going to improve their health and reduce their risk for diabetes."

According to Ley, subjects' diets were diverse in quality when the study began, but results indicate that an improvement is beneficial regardless of how poor the diet had once been.

The study was presented at the American Diabetes Association's 74th Scientific Sessions.

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