Is A Vegan Diet Good For Diabetes?

Thinking of switching to a vegan diet? It could be one of the best decisions you'll ever make. Vegans are slimmer, healthier, and less prone to disease, states a 2009 review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. As the researchers note, vegan and vegetarian diets may protect against diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. What's more, this lifestyle has been linked to lower rates of colorectal and prostate cancers, which may be due to the high antioxidant content of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, vegans don't consume eggs, red or processed meats, and other foods that may increase cancer risk.

A common concern is that plant-based diets cause nutrient deficiencies. For example, some vegans don't get enough vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and omega-3s, according to the above review. However, you may turn to fortified foods or supplements to prevent these issues. As far as protein goes, you can get it from nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, veggies, and plant-based milk. "We've never [seen] issues with protein deficiencies, only in people who don't eat enough calories," senior researcher Marco Springmann told BBC Future.

Things are trickier for those with underlying conditions, such as diabetes or digestive disorders. For instance, starches and refined grains are high in carbs and may raise blood sugar levels, says Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But even so, vegan diets can benefit people with diabetes. Let's see what the research says.

Vegan diets may improve glycemic control

Vegan diets are often higher in fiber than other eating patterns, making it easier to keep your blood sugar levels stable. This nutrient not only promotes digestive health but also slows sugar absorption into the bloodstream. Moreover, it increases satiety and curbs hunger, which may aid in weight loss, explains the Mayo Clinic. To reap the benefits, aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day if you're a woman, or 21 grams per day if you're a man. Whole grains, beans, fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables are all great choices.

Clinical research supports the benefits of vegan diets for individuals with diabetes. Scientists say that plant-based diets can improve glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, preventing diabetes complications. This eating pattern may also reduce the need for diabetes medications and protect against nerve damage, reports the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology. In one study, half of the diabetic patients who switched to a high-carb, high-fiber diet for 16 days were able to stop insulin therapy. The other half were able to lower their daily dose of insulin.

However, not all vegan foods are healthy. French fries, breakfast cereals, frozen meals, candy, and other processed foods can send your blood sugar through the roof. "There's little point in moving from a processed meat-based diet to a primarily processed vegan diet," said lifestyle medicine physician Shireen Kassam in an interview with Plant Based News. For example, plant-based burgers are chock-full of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.

Vegan diets may help you avoid diabetes complications

As mentioned earlier, some studies suggest that vegan diets may help prevent kidney disease and other complications from diabetes. This condition can put you at risk for a host of problems, such as atherosclerosis, stroke, hearing impairment, and dementia, notes Mayo Clinic. In the long run, it can damage the nerves in your eyes and limbs, causing lifelong disabilities.

A vegan diet won't prevent all these problems, but it can mitigate their impact. In one study, researchers asked 21 patients with diabetes to go vegan and exercise regularly for 25 days. The participants had distal sensory polyneuropathy, a form of nerve damage. By the end of the study, 17 patients experienced complete pain relief and reduced numbness, reports the Journal of Nutritional Medicine.

Other studies found that vegan diets may lower total and LDL (the "bad") cholesterol levels, prevent high blood pressure, and decrease inflammation, according to clinical research presented in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology. What's more, switching to a plant-based diet can make it easier to manage your weight, which in turn may improve blood sugar control. Maintaining a healthy weight could also lower your risk of heart disease and premature death, notes a recent review published in Advances in Nutrition.

Based on these findings, it makes sense to eliminate meat and other animal foods from your diet. Try it for a couple of weeks, keep an eye on your blood sugar levels, and give your body time to adjust.