Reducing the Risk: Go Vegetarian
Vegetarian and vegan diets offer significant benefits for diabetes prevention, treatment, and reversal of type 2 diabetes. In observational studies, individuals following vegetarian diets are about half as likely to develop diabetes, compared with non-vegetarians.1 Clinical trials show that individuals with type 2 diabetes who consume a low-fat vegan diet improve blood sugar control to a greater extent than conventional diabetes diets. Vegetarian and vegan diets also improve plasma lipid by reducing the total cholesterol, LDL (“the bad cholesterol”), and triglycerides. A vegan diet has been shown to reverse atherosclerosis progression when combined with exercise and stress management.
Mountains of Evidence
Researchers from the Loma Linda University examined 8,401 participants (ages 45-88 years) and followed them for 17 years. They discovered:
- Subjects who were weekly consumers of all meats were 29% more likely to develop diabetes than those who ate no meat.
- Subjects who consumed any processed meats (salted fish and frankfurters) were 38% more likely to develop diabetes.
- Long-term adherence (over a 17-year interval) to a diet that included at least weekly meat intake was associated with a 74% increase in odds of diabetes relative to long-term adherence to a vegetarian diet (zero meat intake).
- Although some of this might be attributable to obesity, the researchers found that, “even after control for weight and weight change, weekly meat intake remained an important risk factor.”2
Seven Additional Benefits!
Researchers from the George Washington University screened and followed-up on the employees of a major insurance corporation. The employees chosen had a body mass index of 25 (or more) kg/m, and/or a previous diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. For twenty-two weeks, some of the participants received weekly group instruction on a low-fat vegan diet, and others received no diet instruction at all. The vegan group reported improvements in general health, physical functioning, mental health, vitality, and overall diet satisfaction compared with the control group. They also reported a decrease in food costs compared with the control group. The vegan group reported a 40-46% decrease in health-related productivity impairments at work and in regular daily activities. In a different study, researchers from George Washington University studied 99 individuals with type 2 diabetes. Some were randomly assigned to a low-fat vegan diet (with no limits on calories, carbohydrate, or portion sizes), and others were given a diet following the American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines. Participants were evaluated by A1C tests at the beginning of the study and then in 22 weeks. The A1C test is a common blood test used to diagnose type 1 and type 2 diabetes and is also used to gauge how well the diabetes is managed. The A1C test result reflects the average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. This test measures what percentage of hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in your red blood) is coated with sugar (glycated). A high A1C level indicates that the blood sugar is controlled poorly, thus creating a higher risk for diabetes complications.
The results were as follows:
- Of the vegan group, 43% reduced their diabetes medications, versus 26% following the ADA diet.
- Including all participants, A1C decreased 0.96 percentage points in the vegan group and 0.56 points in the ADA group
- Excluding those who changed medications, A1C fell 1.23 points in the vegan group compared with 0.38 points in the ADA group.
- Body weight decreased 6.5 kg in the vegan group and 3.1 kg in the ADA group.
- Body weight change correlated with A1C change. Among those who did not change lipid-lowering medications, LDL cholesterol fell 21.2% in the vegan group and 10.7% in the ADA group.
- After adjustment for baseline values, urinary albumin reductions were greater in the vegan group than in the ADA group. In other words, the vegans had healthier kidneys than those in the ADA group.
- All this with no limits on calories, carbohydrate, or portion sizes!3
Vegan Diet Helps to Reduce Diabetic Complications:
A vegetarian diet or a well-balanced vegan diet can help prevent or improve diabetic complications. A plant based diet with almonds, walnuts, peanuts, etc., fiber from oats and barley, soy proteins, and plant sterols, reduces serum lipids (total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides) which are often elevated in diabetes. Plant foods also reduce inflammation, a common problem in diabetic individuals. Substituting soy or other vegetable proteins for animal protein may reduce the risk of developing renal disease in type 2 diabetes.4
While the vegan diet is certainly the winner, one must know how to plan a menu and how to cook before going completely vegan. A vegan diet becomes impoverished if one does not eat a variety of whole grains, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, legumes, and nuts. The Wildwood Country Store offers a variety of DVD’s which teach vegan cooking, as well as a variety of cookbooks. If one is eating a mixed diet of plant foods and meat, it would be wiser to adopt a lacto-ova-vegetarian diet and learn the principles of nutrition before going strictly vegetarian (vegan). If one is a vegan, he should obtain vitamin B-12 and possibly vitamin D from either fortified foods or a modest vitamin supplement.
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Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
- Barnard, Neal, et al, Vegetarian and Vegan Diets in the Type 2 Diabetes Management, www.pcrm.org/…/diabetes/diabetesforum
- Katcher, HI, et al., Ann Nutr Metab, 2010;56(4):245-52. Epub 2010 Apr 14.A worksite vegan nutrition program is well-accepted and improves health-related quality of life and work productivity.
- Barnard, ND, et al, A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes, Diabetes Care, 2006 Aug;29(8):1777-83.
- Anderson, JW, Beneficial effects of soy protein consumption for renal function, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2008;17 Suppl 1:324-8.