Eating a diet high in whole grains, fibre, fish and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may reduce the risk of dying from all causes in adults with type 2 diabetes (T2D), according to a systematic review and meta-analysis synthesising all the available evidence, being presented at this year’s European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) Annual Meeting in Stockholm, Sweden (19-23 Sept).
“There are some dietary recommendations and guidelines for people with type 2 diabetes, but most are not evidence-based or are derived from studies of the general population”, says author Dr Janett Barbaresko from the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf, Germany. “Our rigorous assessment of the best currently available evidence indicates with reasonable certainty that eating a diet rich in whole grains, fibre, fish and PUFAs as well as consuming more vegetables and plant proteins may help people with type 2 diabetes live longer.”
However, the researchers stress that the limited evidence about other dietary factors, including dietary patterns, foods such as dairy, meat, and tea, and micronutrients such as caffeine and vitamin D, underscores the need for more robust and comprehensive studies to better understand the impact of different dietary factors on the progression of T2D.
People with T2D are more prone to circulatory diseases, dementia, cancer, and bone fractures. And despite an increasing number of effective drugs, lifestyle modifications - such as exercise and diet - remain a cornerstone of treatment.
However, little is known about diet and the prevention of illness and death in people living with T2D. A few studies have assessed the association between specific dietary factors such as the Mediterranean diet or intake of vegetables on all-cause mortality in T2D, but the relation with different dietary factors has not been comprehensively summarised.
To find out more, German researchers did a systematic review of 107 prospective observational studies investigating any dietary factors (i.e., dietary patterns, foods and food groups, macronutrients [carbohydrates, fats, protein] and micronutrients [minerals and vitamins] secondary plant compounds [e.g., polyphenols], and supplements [e.g., vitamin E, magnesium]) and the risk of death from all causes in adults (aged 18 or older) with T2D, up to June 2022.
Overall, 72 studies were included in 45 meta-analyses comparing the effects of high versus low intake and to evaluate the dose-response relationship between dietary factors and death from any cause, over an average of 10 years. The number of participants included in the meta-analyses ranged from 1,073 to 84,816. The certainty of evidence was evaluated to determine the confidence in the meta-findings .
The analyses found that there was moderate-certainty of evidence of a protective association between the intake of whole grain, fibre, fish, n-3 PUFAs and death from all causes. Adding one serving (20 g/day) of whole grain from foods such as brown bread and rice or breakfast cereals was associated with about a 16% reduction. Each serving per week increase in fish consumption was associated with a 5% lower risk of death.
Similarly, an additional 5 g per day intake of dietary fibre (equivalent to a medium pear or two shredded wheat) and 0.1 g per day increase in n-3 PUFAs was associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes—14% and 13% lower, respectively. The body does not produce n-3 fatty acids naturally, so good sources include fish, vegetable oil, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.
Evidence of lower certainty also suggests that eating large amounts of vegetables and plant protein may be beneficial. A daily increase of 100 g of vegetables and 10 g of plant proteins such as nuts, tofu, beans, lentils and peas was associated with a 12% and 9% lower risk of death, respectively.
Possible beneficial effects of these foods include their link with favourable changes in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels and anti-inflammatory effects, which might help to lower the risk of comorbidities such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
In contrast, higher intake of eggs and dietary cholesterol was associated with an increased risk of death from any cause—with a 10 g per day increase in egg intake (equivalent to two medium eggs per week) was associated with a 5% greater risk of death, while adding 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day was linked with a 19% increase.
For other dietary factors, no association was found and/or the evidence was very uncertain, including: dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet and low-carbohydrate high-protein diet; foods including nuts, dairy, meat, sugar and sweets; macronutrients including carbohydrates and micronutrients such as caffeine and vitamin D.
“More research is needed to provide more robust and comprehensive evidence on different dietary factors and the progression of diabetes,” says Dr Sabrina Schlesinger at the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf and the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) in Munich-Neuherberg (partner in Düsseldorf), who led the study. “But if individuals with type 2 diabetes are able to add a few servings of whole grains, fibre, fish, plant oils and vegetables to their weekly diets, our results suggest it may be an easy and low-risk way to possibly improve their outcome.”
The authors note that the study is observational and therefore does not prove that people with T2D who eat a diet rich in whole grains, fibre, fish and n-3 PUFAs will live longer. Rather, it shows an association. They also note that the small number of studies in many meta-analyses may limit the conclusions that can be drawn.
For interviews with the report authors, please contact Dr Olaf Spörkel in the press office of the German Diabetes Center, Düsseldorf, Germany E) email@example.com T) +49 211 3382-507
Alternative contact in the EASD Press Room: Tony Kirby T) + 44(0)7834 385827 E) firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
 The certainty of evidence was evaluated using GRADE approach that takes into account the within-study risk of bias, inconsistency, indirectness and imprecision between the studies, publication bias, magnitude of the effect and dose-response relationship. High certainty of evidence indicates that there is a high confidence in the effect estimate and that further research probably will not change the effect estimate, whereas a moderate certainty of evidence indicates a moderate confidence in the effect estimate and further studies may change the effect estimate. A low certainty of evidence indicates low confidence in the effect estimate and it is likely that further studies change the effect estimate, and a very low certainty of evidence indicates that there is very limited and uncertain meta-evidence available.
The German Diabetes Center is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Culture of the State North Rhine-Westphalia. The study was supported in a part by the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD). The funders had no role in study design or data collection, analysis and interpretation.
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
This press release is based on oral presentation 1 at The European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD). All accepted abstracts have been extensively peer reviewed by the congress selection committee. There is no full paper at this stage, but the authors are happy to answer your questions. The research has been submitted to a medical journal for publication. As it is an oral presentation there is no poster with this talk.
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.