How a Plant-Based Diet Can Prevent and Treat Type 2 Diabetes

By Jhena Waring

Research Suggests That the Prognosis of Diabetes Can be Improved on a Plant-Based Diet.

Diabetes Mellitus is a metabolic disease characterized by high blood sugar levels.

The disease affects an estimated 415 million people worldwide, not accounting for roughly 46% who are undiagnosed. Specific to Canada, one in three Canadians has diabetes or prediabetes. There are two types of diabetes; most of the population falls within Type 2 diabetes. In this sub-type, insulin – the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels – is either rejected, or not enough of it is produced.

Those who are overweight are most at risk. They make up the majority of those who are diagnosed. Research suggests that maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle can greatly reduce your risk of developing insulin resistance. It also indicates that, despite there being no cure, reversing obesity (someone who is over 100 pounds more than their healthy weight) and its associated side effects such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can improve the diseases’ severity.

Photo: Annie Spratt

Plant-Based Studies

The increase of studies highlighting the various benefits provided by plant-based diets indicate that they’re more than just a fad. Specific to Type 2 diabetes, several studies have demonstrated plant-based diets as a means for treatment.

The International Journal of Disease Reversal and Prevention (IJDRP) recently published a case study on a 40-year-old male who had been living with Type 2 diabetes for eight years. He had severe obesity and hypertension. The subject was living a sedentary lifestyle, where light walking was the extent of his daily physical activity. He followed a ‘traditional Western diet’ of processed foods, dairy and red meat, with minimal amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Type 2 diabetes ran in his family. However, his working diagnosis was concerned with unhealthy lifestyle habits.

The Potential Solution

The patient was placed on an unrestricted caloric whole-food, plant-based diet for 10 weeks. The main focus was to eat whole, unprocessed, foods that were low in fat, consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. On this plant-based diet, the subject ate less saturated fats, and more carbohydrates and fibre.

In larger-scale studies, it has been shown that eating less saturated fats, which are found in animal foods, and eating more unsaturated fats, increases insulin sensitivity. Higher insulin sensitivity allows the cells of the body to use blood glucose more effectively. Increasing insulin sensitivity as a diabetic is crucial, as insulin resistance is the root of the condition.

The Verdict

After just six weeks of switching to a plant-based diet, notable improvements were seen. The patient sustained a substantial weight loss, and improved his clinical status. Calorie intake was not limited, and his exercise regime was still infrequent, strongly suggesting that the improvements seen were due to his change in diet.

At 10 weeks, he further improved his clinical status; lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels, reduced blood pressure, and increased insulin sensitivity. This case study demonstrates the efficacy of using whole, plant-based foods as a means for treating Type 2 diabetes.

Other studies have revealed that consuming food high in fibre and low in saturated fat induces glycemic stability irrespective of weight loss. Moreover, eating a whole-food, plant-based diet significantly reduces your risk of developing diabetes and other chronic ailments, such as heart disease.

Photo: Guillaume de Germain

Understanding the Results

In countless studies, intake of dietary fibre and whole grains have been repeatedly shown to have protective effects against diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Plant-based diets are higher in fibre and low in saturated fats. Diets low in saturated fats promote a variety of benefits, such as proper insulin management. These factors increase insulin sensitivity, which is likely the key determinant in treating diabetes.

Moving Forward

The above study led by the New York University School of Medicine demonstrates the benefits of eating a whole-food, plant-based diet to manage diabetes. The latest Canada Food Guide published in 2019 strongly encourages the consumption of whole-food, plant-based foods for optimal health. This, alongside several scientific studies, illustrates how disease prevention and management largely depends on the food we eat.

In Canada alone, Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95% of diabetes cases, with this diagnosis increasing in children. The numbers are staggering, and are only predicted to keep rising.

This is a grave pandemic, and one which appears to be, for the most part, preventative.

Visit this post to explore other benefits of a plant-based diet.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We advise readers to always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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