At the Annual Conference of the American Association of Diabetes Educators in August 2019 (AADE19) in Houston, it was noted that plant-based diets, especially vegan diets, positively correlated with beta cell function.
This is very important because beta cells secrete insulin. Therefore, it is the main protagonist in blood sugar management in diabetics. Studies have found that vegan diets can completely reverse the progression of diabetes by improving beta-cell function (1).
Intrigued? Let's explore this in more detail.
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1. Vegan Diets Can Help Improve Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance is the primary cause of diabetes. This is a condition in which the cells refuse to take up glucose, leading to an increase in blood sugar.
Researchers have found that a low-fat vegan diet has helped improve insulin sensitivity. They also help reduce fat mass and overall body weight, which increases insulin responsiveness (2).
2. The High Amount of Fiber in Vegan Diets Can Keep You Full for Longer
Vegan diets are rich in fibers that take the body longer to digest and won't spike sugar levels. They also keep you full for longer, preventing you from munching on high-calorie, processed food.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that men and women should consume between 25-30 grams of fiber every day.
3. Vegan Diets Help Reduce Weight and Improve Blood Sugar Regulation
About 90% of those with type 2 diabetes are overweight (3). Vegan diets that are high in fiber, low in cholesterol, and saturated fat help reduce weight. This diet, combined with exercise, can help lower blood glucose levels and better manage diabetes. This is mainly due to reduced belly fat, which improves insulin sensitivity.
Diabetic complications such as nerve pain are also reduced in people who follow plant-based diet plans. It improves their quality of life, both physically and emotionally.
4. Phytochemicals in Vegetables Have Powerful Anti-Diabetic Effects
The phytochemicals in plant products have anti-diabetic effects. They have the ability to prevent diabetes and prevent further complications. They help regulate carbohydrate digestion, insulin signaling, glucose uptake, and fat deposition. They do so by beta-cell proliferation, promoting insulin secretion, and controlling glucose metabolism in the liver.
Higher consumption of anthocyanins from apples, blueberries, and pears could lower the risk of diabetes. Broccoli and broccoli sprouts contain sulforaphane, which can lower blood sugar levels. Seeds, especially pumpkin seeds, contain polysaccharides that help regulate blood sugar levels. Okra contains isoquercitrin and quercetin 3-O-gentiobioside, which reduce sugar levels by inhibiting certain enzymatic reactions that release sugar into the bloodstream.
5. Plants Help Reduce Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress plays a significant role in developing complications associated with diabetes. Metabolic abnormalities related to diabetes cause increased production of superoxide radicals in the mitochondria that trigger pro-inflammatory pathways. This may cause long-lasting, potentially dangerous problems for diabetics.
Plant products contain antioxidants that scavenge these radicals and prevent oxidation. It helps reduce inflammation, thereby preventing complications associated with diabetes.
6. Vegan Diets Improve Food Microbiome Interaction
Good and bad bacteria account for nearly 1.5 to 2 kg of human body weight, and the delicate balance between the two keeps us healthy. Often, diabetics have an imbalance in this gut microbiota.
Studies confirm that an increase in the diversity of good microbes in your gut, especially more butyrate-producing bacteria, may benefit insulin resistance. This reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and prevents the transition from prediabetes to diabetes. A vegan diet can provide sufficient prebiotics and probiotics to improve gut bacteria balance and benefit diabetics.
7. Vegan Diets Are Low in Nitrosamines
The reaction between nitrites and proteins forms nitrosamines, which are toxic and have a mutagenic effect on DNA. They also generate inflammatory reactive oxygen species that can trigger a cascade of reactions that lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Vegan diets are devoid of these nitrosamine-causing chemicals. In addition, they have high amounts of vitamin C and E and selenium that help prevent or minimize the formation of nitrosamines.
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8. Vegan Diets Are Low in Saturated Fat
People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular problems. Therefore, diabetics can benefit from eating high-fiber foods that are low in saturated fats that contribute to bad cholesterol levels (low-density lipoprotein or LDL).
Vegan diets are naturally lower in saturated fat than diets containing meat.
9. Vegan Diets Have Less Advanced Glycation End Products
Advanced glycation end products (AGE) are proteins or fats that become glycated with the addition of sugar (4). They create massive oxidation, which negatively affects your arteries and kidneys. It also triggers aging and degeneration.
AGE is very much linked to the progression of diabetes. A vegan diet can help solve AGE-related problems, as animal-derived foods that are high in fat and protein are generally AGE-rich and prone to new AGE formation during cooking (5).
» Learn more: 10 Nutrients Vegans Might Be Lacking and How to Get Them
10. Vegan Diets Are Low in Sodium
A vegan diet is naturally low in sodium because meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods loaded with sodium aren't consumed. For a diabetic, this is beneficial because too much salt can raise your blood pressure.
People with diabetes are more prone to high blood pressure and an overall increase in the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
A vegan diet full of whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can help treat many chronic diseases such as diabetes. Not only does it prevent the progression from prediabetes to diabetes, but it may also reverse diabetes if the proper precautions are taken.
» Learn more: Top 10 Foods to Avoid if You Have Diabetes