According to a recent report in the journal Nature Medicine, the rising rates of type 2 diabetes worldwide can be partly attributed to excessive consumption of refined wheat and rice products, as well as insufficient intake of whole grains. Additionally, overconsumption of red and processed meats is also contributing to this growing health concern. Based on data modeling up until 2018, the study concluded that poor dietary choices were responsible for more than 14 million new cases of type 2 diabetes that year alone. In fact, an overwhelming majority – about seven out of every ten cases across the world – can be linked back to unhealthy eating habits.
It has been shown that poor carbohydrate quality plays a significant role in diet-attributable type 2 diabetes globally, according to Dariush Mozaffarian, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University. A study by the research team applied a model of dietary intake spanning 1990 to 2018 to 184 countries, finding that in 2018 there were 8.6 million more cases of type 2 diabetes as a result of poor diet compared to 1990.
On a global scale, type 2 diabetes is more prevalent among those who eat too many unhealthy foods such as refined rice, wheat, and potatoes, processed and unprocessed red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice, than among those who eat adequate amounts of nutritious food. A particular trend was observed among men compared with women, among younger adults versus older adults, and in urban versus rural areas.
Just six harmful dietary habits were linked to over 60% of all type 2 diabetes cases globally. Sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice, refined grains and potatoes, processed and unprocessed red meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages and potato snacks were among these. Conversely, just over 39% of new cases were caused by inadequate intake of protective dietary factors including fruits, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and yogurt.
The highest percentage of new type 2 diabetes cases linked to diet were discovered in Eastern and Central Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Diets centered on potatoes and red or processed meat in countries like Poland and Russia, as well as high consumption of sugary drinks and processed meat coupled with low intake of whole grains in Colombia, Mexico, and other Latin American or Caribbean countries resulted in an alarming prevalence of diet-related type 2 diabetes.
The study authors caution that their modeling approach does not establish causation, and the findings should be interpreted as estimates of risk. However, they emphasize that these findings highlight critical areas that require national and global attention to improve nutrition and reduce the growing burden of type 2 diabetes. Dr. Mozaffarian, who also serves as the editor in chief of the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, stated that “these new findings reveal critical areas for national and global focus to improve nutrition and reduce devastating burdens of diabetes.”
The study underscores the urgent need for individuals and policymakers to prioritize healthy food choices, including increased consumption of whole grains and protective dietary factors, and reduced intake of refined grains and processed meats to combat the global epidemic of type 2 diabetes.