Diet Made a Difference in Diabetes for Minority Women

Diabetes risk dropped in women with healthy diets, particularly in Asian, Black and Hispanic women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A healthy diet can make a big difference in diabetes risk — and that difference may be even bigger for women who are Asian, Black or Hispanic.

A new study found that a healthy diet decreased the risk of diabetes in women. All ethnic groups benefited, but women who were Asian, Hispanic or Black saw even more benefits than white women.

Past research has indicated that some ethnic groups might be hit harder by diabetes. This was the first large study to look carefully at how diet affected the chance of developing diabetes for women of different races.

"This study suggests that a healthy overall diet can play a vital role in preventing type 2 diabetes, particularly in minority women who have elevated risks of the disease," said lead study author Jinnie Rhee, a postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, in a press release. "As the incidence of type 2 diabetes continues to increase at an alarming rate worldwide, these findings can have global importance for what may be the largest public health threat of this century."

Diabetes in the US population has been on the rise since 1982, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2011, 20.9 million Americans had been diagnosed with diabetes. Dr. Rhee and team noted that, at the time of their study, 29.1 million people in the US had diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes more resistant to insulin — the hormone that regulates blood sugar. These researchers noted that minority women tend to secrete less insulin and to be less sensitive to its effects than white women.

Dr. Rhee and team used data from the Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses’ Health Study II. Study patients were followed for as long as 28 years and completed diet surveys every four years. The study population included more than 150,000 white women, 2,000 Asian, 2,000 Hispanic women and 2,300 black women.

Dr. Rhee and colleagues found that a healthy diet decreased diabetes risk for all women. They defined a healthy diet as one low in saturated and trans fats, sugar, and red and processed meats. Healthy diets were high in cereal fiber, polyunsaturated fats, coffee and nuts.

Women who ate a healthy diet had a much lower risk of developing diabetes. This risk varied by ethnic group, however.

A healthy diet lowered the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 48 percent in white women, 42 percent in Asian women and 32 percent in black women — compared to patients who did not eat a healthy diet. Hispanic women got the biggest benefit from a healthy diet, with a 55 percent decreased risk of diabetes.

Dr. Rhee and colleagues noted some other diet-related findings. White women decreased their risk of diabetes 10 percent for each cup of coffee they drank per day on average. In minority women, this risk decreased 12 percent for each additional cup of coffee per day.

Each additional daily serving of red and processed meat or sugar-sweetened beverage increased the risk of diabetes in all ethnic groups. A single additional daily serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage increased type 2 diabetes risk by 25 percent in white women and 16 percent in minority women.

These researchers calculated that a healthier diet could prevent 5.3 cases of diabetes per 1,000 white women each year and 8 cases per 1,000 minority women each year. Patients may be able to reduce their risk of diabetes by following a healthy diet.

This study was published online Jan. 15 in the journal Diabetes Care.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 22, 2015
Last Updated:
January 26, 2015