From Neal Barnard at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:
Dietary Approaches to Diabetes
Food can be powerful in preventing and reversing diabetes. However, dietary approaches have changed as we have learned more about the disease.
The traditional approach to diabetes focuses on limiting refined sugars and foods that release sugars during digestionâ€” starches, breads, fruits, pasta, etc. With carbohydrates reduced, the diet may contain an unhealthful amount of fat and protein. So diabetes experts have taken care to limit fatsâ€” especially saturated fats that can raise cholesterol levelsâ€”and to limit protein for people with impaired kidney function.
The new approach focuses more attention on fat. Fat is a problem for people with diabetes. The more fat there is in the diet, the harder time insulin has in getting glucose into the cells.2 Conversely, minimizing fat intake and reducing body fat help insulin do its job much better. Newer treatment programs drastically reduce meats, high-fat dairy products, and oils. At the same time, they increase grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. One study found that 21 of 23 patients on oral medications and 13 of 17 patients on insulin were able to get off of their medications after 26 days on a near-vegetarian diet and exercise program.3 During two- and three-year follow- ups, most people with diabetes treated with this regimen have retained their gains.4 The dietary changes are simple, but profound, and they work. Low-fat, vegetarian diets are ideal for people with diabetes.
A 2006 study, conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine with the George Washington University and the University of Toronto, looked at the health benefits of a low-fat, unrefined, vegan diet (excluding all animal products) in people with type 2 diabetes.5 Portions of vegetables, grains, fruits, and legumes were unlimited. The vegan diet group was compared with a group following a diet based on American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines. The results of this 22-week study were astounding:
â– Forty-three percent of the vegan group and 26 percent of the ADA group reduced their diabetes medications. Among those whose medications remained constant, the vegan group lowered hemoglobin A1C, an index of long-term blood glucose control, by 1.2 points, three times the change in the ADA group.
â– The vegan group lost an average of about 13 pounds, compared with only about 9 pounds in the ADA group.
â– Among those participants who didnâ€™t change their lipid-lowering medications, the vegan group also had more substantial decreases in their total and LDL cholesterol levels compared to the ADA group.
This study illustrates that a plant-based diet can dramatically improve the health of people with diabetes. It also showed that people found this way of eating highly acceptable and easy to follow.