Plain language summary
It is generally accepted that certain diet and lifestyle choices contribute to a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D). In this meta-analysis, researchers set out to review previous studies and assess whether there is any evidence that the amount and type of carbohydrate (measured by Glycaemic Index (GI) and Glycaemic Load (GL)) in a person’s diet has a direct influence on their risk of developing T2D. The authors concluded with a high level of confidence that eating high GI and GL foods can lead to a higher risk of developing T2D. They suggest that nutrition advice that favours low GI and GL foods could produce significant cost savings for public healthcare.
While dietary factors are important modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes (T2D), the causal role of carbohydrate quality in nutrition remains controversial. Dietary glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) have been examined in relation to the risk of T2D in multiple prospective cohort studies. Previous meta-analyses indicate significant relations but consideration of causality has been minimal. Here, the results of our recent meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies of 4 to 26-y follow-up are interpreted in the context of the nine Bradford-Hill criteria for causality, that is: (1) Strength of Association, (2) Consistency, (3) Specificity, (4) Temporality, (5) Biological Gradient, (6) Plausibility, (7) Experimental evidence, (8) Analogy, and (9) Coherence. These criteria necessitated referral to a body of literature wider than prospective cohort studies alone, especially in criteria 6 to 9. In this analysis, all nine of the Hill's criteria were met for GI and GL indicating that we can be confident of a role for GI and GL as causal factors contributing to incident T2D. In addition, neither dietary fiber nor cereal fiber nor wholegrain were found to be reliable or effective surrogate measures of GI or GL. Finally, our cost-benefit analysis suggests food and nutrition advice favors lower GI or GL and would produce significant potential cost savings in national healthcare budgets. The high confidence in causal associations for incident T2D is sufficient to consider inclusion of GI and GL in food and nutrient-based recommendations.