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Living Well

Vegan Diets May Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Last updated: Jul 20, 2015

Becoming a vegan and eliminating all animal based products from your diet may seem like an extreme choice, but for people with Type 2 diabetes it may be a lifestyle decision that’s beneficial if approved by a physician. Research suggests that veganism, and vegetarianism in general, can not only help reverse the course of Type 2 diabetes but may actually prevent it.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, is caused by resistance to insulin and the inability of the body to make enough insulin to keep blood sugar (glucose) at normal and healthy levels.   This condition is also called “hyperglycemia.”  An estimated 18 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, which results from a combination of genetics and poor eating and exercise habits. They run a high risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and limb loss.1

According to one landmark study by researchers at George Washington University School of Medicine, “Vegetarian and vegan diets offer significant benefits for diabetes management. In observational studies, individuals following vegetarian diets are about half as likely to develop diabetes, compared with non-vegetarians. In clinical trials in individuals with type 2 diabetes, low-fat vegan diets improve glycemic control to a greater extent than conventional diabetes diets.”2 These findings are supported by other research studies demonstrating the relationship between a vegan diet and the successful management of Type 2 diabetes.3

However, a vegan diet is not without potential downfalls.  It is important to work closely with your doctor because a vegan diet carries a significant risk of being deficient in protein, calcium and vitamin B12 if it is not fully balanced. 

Not only a vegan but any type of vegetarian diet helps stabilize blood sugar and improve the health of individuals with Type 2 diabetes for several reasons.   According to the Website of the Mayo Clinic, a vegetarian diet, including veganism, can help people with Type 2 diabetes because it:

  • Promotes a healthy weight. Vegan diets are often lower in calories than are other diets, which can help with weight management. Also, people following a vegan diet tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than do people who follow a nonvegetarian diet. A healthy body weight can improve blood sugar control and reduce your risk of diabetes complications.
  • Improves blood sugar control and insulin response. Eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts — features of a vegan diet — can improve blood sugar control and make your body more responsive to insulin. This may mean taking less medication and lowering your risk of diabetes-related complications. Vegan recipes feature complex carbohydrates instead of simple starches, like potatoes and white rice, which can raise blood sugar.
  • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. A strict vegan diet is cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat and usually high in soluble fiber. This can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease — a common complication of people who have diabetes.4

“I know that being a vegetarian isn’t always convenient or easy,” said Margaret Eckler, the diabetes educator at Summit Medical Group’s Diabetes Live Well Program, “but I’ve seen great results in patients who have adopted vegetarianism.  I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, but there’s no doubt that eating a plant-based diet is helpful in managing Type 2 diabetes.”

The Diabetes Live Well Program at Summit Medical Group, certified by the American Diabetics Association (ADA), provides outstanding medical and educational services for adults with diabetes and the family members who care for them. The expert staff helps patients learn to control blood sugar levels through proper diet, exercise, and medication when necessary.   

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Sources:

1. NIH. "Type 2 Diabetes: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 July 2015.

2. Barnard, ND, MD. "Vegetarian and Vegan Diets in Type 2 Diabetes Management." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 7 May 2009. Web. 15 July 2015.

3. Ibid.

4. Castro, M. Regina, M.D. "Diabetes." Vegetarian Diet: Can It Help Me Control My Diabetes? The Mayo Clinic, 22 June 2013. Web. 15 July 2015.

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