Plant-Based Diets for Diabetes Prevention and Management

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-based diets are increasingly becoming popular, but the number of people eating plant-based foods is still relatively low and a majority of the world population continues to eat more meat than generally recommended (1).  A plant-based diet, different from veganism or vegetarianism, includes all foods that are derived from plants, including legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and may eliminate some or all animal products from one’s diet. 

With a plant-based diet, one may eat animal products as well, but the focus is on plant-based foods that make you feel good and bring you closer to where your food comes from. By limiting or removing meat and dairy from your diet through a plant-based diet, one naturally eats less fat, especially saturated fat, and more carbohydrates, including fiber and starch (1).  However, it is still important to choose the right foods that are plant-based, since many of these foods still contain higher amounts of fat and sugar. 

Are Plant-Based Diets Healthier?

Research has shown that plant based diets, due to the higher intake of fiber, antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids and phytochemicals, are associated with health benefits including a decreased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and some cancers (1). Other research has indicated that those who eat more plant-based foods are leaner overall and may be able lose and manage weight better (1).

One study comparing nine different research studies found that plant-based diets were sometimes associated with improving glycemic control, depending on the study (1). Other studies done in the past have shown that eliminating all animal products from one’s diet is associated with preventing and managing obesity and type 2 diabetes (1). 

Can Plant-Based Diets Help Manage Diabetes? 

Insulin resistance, a large component of type 2 diabetes, is signficantly affected by diet and physical activity. As fast food restaurants, sedentary lifestyles, and sugar sweetened beverages become more popular among the American diet, the incidence of diabetes only continues to rise. A plant-based diet offers healthier options for individuals that may prove to be protective against developing type 2 diabetes (2), improve glycemic control, and increase insulin sensitivity (1). Plant-based diets have also been associated with decreased rates of obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, death from heart disease, and cancer (2). 

Several studies have indicated that diet patterns are a predictor in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Specifically it was found that plant-based foods, such as root vegetables, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and peanut butter, are connected to a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes while animal products, including red meat, processed meat, and even eggs have been connected to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes (3). Additionally, another research study using a large population found that a diet pattern consisting of more plant-based foods and less animal products were associated with lower insulin resistance and a lower risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes (3). 

Takeaway Message

Research shows that eating more plant-based foods and limiting animal products is associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes and may help with managing diabetes as well. This doesn’t mean that you need to eliminate all animal products and only eat leafy green vegetables, but incorporating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds into your diet will naturally lower added sugar and fat in your diet, lower your risk of many diseases, and help bring you closer to the roots of your food. 

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