Can going vegan prevent diabetes?

Need another reason to confirm that a vegan diet can be a preventative potion for chronic disease?  How about the vegan diet reducing your risk of diabetes, a condition which affects about 25 million Americans?  Over the past fourteen years, there have been several studies/trials which have specifically looked at the relationship between veganism and diabetes (three conducted in the last four years) and even a popular book dedicated to the subject that hit shelves this year.

The studies which explore this connection come from the “Adventist Health Study”, “Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)”, and the Czech Republic5.  The studies compared vegan diets to control diets or vegetarian diets.  In general, it was found that vegan diets can reduce the risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes by up to 60%, decrease HgA1C (glycated hemoglobin test),  increase insulin sensitivity, eliminate or reduce the need for diabetes medication, decrease cholesterol, and even help in weight loss5.

The application of this information comes down to the foods a vegan diet does contain versus does not contain.  A diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lower-fat choices, can improve glycemic control.  One of the studies observed that the vegan group consumed 33% more fruits and vegetables than non-vegetarians.   Interestingly, the increased intake of fiber (especially above 50g daily4) and low-glycemic carbohydrates in the vegan diet groups caused fasting blood glucose numbers to go down2.  It is even suggested that following a vegan diet reduces cravings for sweets and fats in general.  Also, despite not being advised to limit calories, as well as adjusting for BMI in several of these studies, the vegan dieters lost weight and reduced their risk of Type 2 Diabetes5.

The American Diabetes Association claims the following4:

  • “A vegetarian diet is a healthy option, even if you have diabetes. Research supports that following this type of diet can help prevent and manage diabetes. In fact, research on vegan diets has found that carb and calorie restrictions were not necessary and still promoted weight loss and lowered participants’ A1C.”
  • This diet also tends to cost less. Meat, poultry, and fish are usually the most expensive foods we eat.”
  • “The vegan diet includes a variety of plant-based foods. Eating soy products and a mix of vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains provides plenty of protein and other important nutrients.”

To further support this concept, the book, VB6, by Mark Bittman, takes a glance into the author’s venture in veganism when told by his physician that adopting a vegan diet was the last medical advice in preventing a slew of escalating diabetes and heart-related health problems1.  The author then committed to making daily vegan food choices until 6pm, yet allowing himself to enjoy non-vegetarian evenings1.  The results of his “flexitarian” diet were significant and improved all of his previous failing health markers.

In conclusion, health conscious choices are paramount in disease prevention and treatment, and furthermore, good evidence supports that honing in on plant intake is a strong factor in controlling diabetes.  Incorporating more vegan (or possibly vegetarian) choices may be an effective tool in protecting us from Type 2 Diabetes and its complications.

By Molly McBride, RD, LD

References:

  1. Bittman, M. (2013) VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 To Lose Weight and Restore Your Health For Good. Clarkson Potter.
  2. Wilbert, C. (2008) “Vegan Diet Good for Type 2 Diabetes”.  WebMD. Retrieved 5 July 2013. http://diabetes.webmd.com/news/
  3. Regina Castro, M. (2012) “Vegetarian diet: Can it help me control my diabetes?” Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 5 July 2013.  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetes/
  4. “Meal Planning for Vegetarian Diets”. American Diabetes Association. Retrieved 5 July 2013.  http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals
  5. Norris, J. (2013) “Type 2 Diabetes and the Vegan Diet”. Vegan Health. Retrieved 5 July 2013.  http://veganhealth.org/articles/diabetestwo

 

 

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