Following a vegan diet may help prevent or control type 2 diabetes, but experts say it’s not enough to only eliminate meat and dairy. Loading up on nutrient-dense, plant-based foods is key.
reverses diabetes type 2 mellitus nature journal (☑ diet) | reverses diabetes type 2 foot painhow to reverses diabetes type 2 for The same day now-58-year-old Nara Schuler was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2010, her doctor told her she’d have to start medication immediately — and stay on it for the rest of her life. But Schuler refused to accept this treatment recommendation. “I have to at least try to do something for myself,” she recalls thinking.
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Her new eating plan consisted mainly of nonstarchy vegetables, plus some fruit, beans, nuts, and seeds. And, to her delight, her diabetes improved.
Within three months, her A1C, a measure of average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months, returned to normal. “I could see that the blood sugar was lowering every single day,” Schuler says. Within seven months, she had shed 90 pounds, helping to increase her insulin sensitivity.
“I felt so empowered — it was amazing,” Schuler says. “It gave me a feeling of accomplishment that’s indescribable.”
The Pros of a Vegan Diet for Diabetes
“There’s a lot of new evidence showing up telling us the benefits of following a plant-based diet,” says Marina Chaparro, RDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who has type 1 diabetes.
A review published in June 2016 in the journal PLoS Medicine suggested that following a plant-based diet rich in high-quality plant foods may decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And a vegan diet may also provide benefits if you already have diabetes, according to a review published in May 2017 in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology.
This review cites a small randomized controlled study published in August 2006 in the journal Diabetes Care that found while a diet based on guidelines from the American Diabetes Association and a low-fat vegan diet both resulted in better lipid and glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes, those individuals who followed the low-fat vegan diet saw the best results.
There are several reasons why a vegan diet may help prevent or control type 2 diabetes. For starters, because many plant-based foods, including nonstarchy vegetables, many types of fruit, beans, nuts, and seeds, tend to be low on the glycemic index, there’s less of a risk you’ll spike your blood sugar when you eat them.
A vegan diet made up of foods that have a low glycemic load also may help enhance healthy gut biofilms, the thin protective barriers that form around bacteria in the gut and make it hard for glucose to penetrate, which in turn slows the glycemic effect in the diet, says Joel Fuhrman, MD, a family medicine doctor in Flemington, New Jersey, and author of The End of Diabetes.
More specifically, Dr. Fuhrman says it’s the combination of green and leafy vegetables, along with the onion family, including cooked mushrooms and beans, that will enhance the biofilm and create what’s known in the medical community as the “second meal effect.”
If you’re regularly eating greens and beans, you may see less of an effect on your blood sugar levels if you eat a fruit that has a higher glycemic load at the next meal. “It helps slow the glucose absorption from other foods, even in meals where you don’t eat beans,” he says.
Because weight is closely linked to type 2 diabetes — about 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, according to the National Institutes of Health — eating low-glycemic foods also helps prevent insulin resistance and combat fat storage. “Typically, the more fruits and veggies we consume, the better our weight will be,” Chaparro says.
As a big plus, the main proteins in a vegan diet are plant based, which may help reduce saturated fat intake, lower cholesterol levels, and help prevent heart disease, of which people with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk than people without diabetes.
The Cons of a Vegan Diet for Type 2 Diabetes
Experts agree that, for a vegan diet to be effective, it must be carefully thought out. “French fries could be vegan, or we can eat a vegan cupcake — but both still have sugars and a high number of carbs,” Chaparro says. “The key words [are] well-planned, well-balanced, and a nutritious vegan diet.”
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Because you won’t be eating meat or dairy, it’s important to consume enough protein and some healthy fats, to promote a healthy weight and overall health. “You the 1 last update 12 Jul 2020 can’t load your diet just full of starches or carbohydrates, because they’ll impact your blood sugar the most,” Chaparro says.Because you won’t be eating meat or dairy, it’s important to consume enough protein and some healthy fats, to promote a healthy weight and overall health. “You can’t load your diet just full of starches or carbohydrates, because they’ll impact your blood sugar the most,” Chaparro says.
Some people, such as those older than age 85 and those who are athletic, might need more protein. Because meat is the richest sources of the easy-to-absorb “heme” form of iron, people who follow a vegan diet will need to be more mindful of getting enough of this important nutrient from their food, as will those who have a genetic or inherent digestive problem that prevents them from absorbing iron. This is true regardless of whether the person has type 2 diabetes, Fuhrman says.
Good vegan sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, tofu, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, quinoa, dried apricots, dried figs, raisins, and fortified breakfast cereals. Keep in mind that vegan sources of iron are in the more difficult to absorb “non-heme” form, so it’s best to eat them at the same time as a food high in vitamin C, which can help your body absorb this form of iron more readily. For good sources of vitamin C, go for kiwi, oranges, broccoli, strawberries, pineapple, or bell peppers.
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How to Follow a Vegan Diet if You Have Type 2 Diabetes
Talk to a certified diabetes educator. A dietitian certified in diabetes education can help you plan a healthy diet and better understand how foods may affect your blood sugar, as well as make sure you’re taking the right supplements if you need them.
Count carbohydrates. Watch your portion sizes and your carbohydrate intake, and always read labels.
Choose high-fiber grains. If you’re going to include grains in your vegan diabetes diet, make sure they’re high in fiber, like brown rice or bulgur. Fiber can be a powerful nutrient for blood sugar regulation.
Eat vegetables at every meal. Fill up half of your plate at every meal with vegetables, preferably nonstarchy types. Not sure how to incorporate veggies into your breakfast? Schuler says she packs her morning smoothies with green leafy veggies.
Use the right type of oil. You’ll want to avoid oils that contain saturated fats, but those with monounsaturated fats, like olive, canola, or avocado oil, and polyunsaturated fats, like sunflower, safflower, or sesame, are an important source of healthy fats in your diet. “These are the ones that are going to give you more bang for your buck,” Chaparro says.
The Bottom Line
Schuler says she is excited to share her story in hopes of helping other people with type 2 diabetes. When she returned to her doctor after changing her eating habits, she says he was shocked. “He said, ‘If you didn’t do the blood test in here, I would say these [results] are [from] two different people,’” she recalls.
Despite Schuler’s success, Chaparro cautions against the idea for 1 last update 12 Jul 2020 that a vegan diet may help cure diabetes. “Following a vegetarian or vegan diet is not going to magically improve your diabetes — [but] if done right, you’re going to see some benefits for sure,” she explains.Despite Schuler’s success, Chaparro cautions against the idea that a vegan diet may help cure diabetes. “Following a vegetarian or vegan diet is not going to magically improve your diabetes — [but] if done right, you’re going to see some benefits for sure,” she explains.
To sum it up, a vegan diet may be healthy and safe if you have diabetes, but it’s important to focus on nutrient-dense foods, continue to monitor your blood sugar levels, and consult a certified diabetes educator to help guide you.