How is your diet related to risk of type 2 diabetes?

Barbara Brayner is a PhD student in the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition supervised by Dr Katherine Livingstone, Associate Professor Michelle Keske and Dr Gunveen Kaur. Her thesis focuses on the association between dietary fat intake and cardio-metabolic health. She has been invited to write about her research as part of National Diabetes Week 2020.

We all have a friend or family member who has type 2 diabetes. That gets us thinking, doesn’t it? My guess is that if there was a magic pill that would take away your chances of having type 2 diabetes, you would want it, right? I would. Well, what if I tell you that there is a powerful tool that you could use to help prevent type 2 diabetes? You have this tool: it is your diet.

What do we know about diet and type 2 diabetes?

A healthy diet along with a healthy lifestyle can help prevent type 2 diabetes. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that we eat a diet high in whole food items that are higher in fiber and lower in fat, whilst lowering our discretionary food intake. Different nutrients play a role in type 2 diabetes development, such as our intake of carbohydrate, fat and fiber. But the role of these nutrients requires further investigation, especially considering that we don’t eat foods and nutrients in isolation, but rather a combination of them.

Dietary fats may play and important role in type 2 diabetes risk

Dietary patterns are a method for measuring combinations of foods and drinks and their association with diseases. For example, you may have heard about a couple of dietary patterns, such as Dietary Approaches to stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean diet. These are well established dietary patterns used in nutrition research, however, different populations consume different combinations of food items and drinks. So what other dietary patterns methods are there and how do they relate with type 2 diabetes?

Nutrients influencing our dietary patterns

There is a dietary pattern method, called Reduced Rank Regression, which allows us to identify the dietary patterns of a given population, taking into account specific nutrient intakes of interest. In my PhD I’m interested in understanding the role of different fats, both saturated and polyunsaturated fats and fiber on risk of type 2 diabetes. So I can use this dietary pattern method to generate dietary patterns relevant to type 2 diabetes risk.

The strength of considering nutrients when generating dietary patterns is that we use the best of both worlds: we still investigate the role of specific nutrients, but whilst also taking into account the combination of them in our everyday diet.

Is there a magic pill after all?

Well, although we might not have a magic pill that prevents us from developing type 2 diabetes, we do have a powerful preventative tool in our hands: our diet. A better understanding of which nutrients, foods and overall dietary patterns have a protective or detrimental role in type 2 diabetes development is needed.  My hope is that my research will help to design more effective dietary guidelines for type 2 diabetes prevention.



Join the conversation

back to top