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Can Plant-Based Diets Reverse Diabetes? Vegan Diets and Blood Sugar Control

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Can Plant-based Diets Reverse Diabetes?

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Studies show that plant-based diets help manage diabetes. A vegan diet can help improve glucose control, reduce medication needs, and even reverse the disease.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 11.3% of the American population had diabetes in 2019.[1] Diabetes kills millions of people every year by contributing to their deaths directly and indirectly. It contributes to the deterioration 0f many people’s health without causing death as well. Almost 500 million people across the globe are suffering from this chronic disease. It is one of the most common chronic diseases in the human population today. Solutions that can reverse type 2 diabetes are few and far between. They are very high in demand. Vegetarian diets are being considered an easy solution to diabetes care.

There are many types of diabetes including gestational diabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 is primarily caused by insulin resistance that may or may not be accompanied by reduced insulin levels in the body. Type 1 diabetes is primarily caused by reduced insulin production in the body. That means that the body is not producing sufficient insulin. Gestational diabetes is the development of chronically high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. Switching to a plant-based diet with sufficient protein has been shown to help the patients of gestational diabetes as well. [2]

Increasing the sensitivity of tissues to insulin is a big challenge for medicine. However, vegan diets have been shown to aid in that as well. They contain whole food, plant-based products that don’t contain a lot of saturated fat and promote glycemic control. Vegan diets are those that contain no animal-derived products – not even dairy products. They are entirely plant-based. Other plant-based diets like vegetarian diets can include dairy products and other animal-based products like honey. However, they also don’t include any meat. All kinds of plant-based diets – including vegetarian diets – are widely believed to help in increasing blood sugar control.

Improve glucose control

Why Traditional Diabetes Diets Don’t Work

Most people following a traditional diabetes diet high in fats and low in sugars end up with new problems in their metabolism. Weight loss is a big problem for most diabetics. Vegetarian diets promote weight loss while a high-fat diet that is usually recommended for diabetes increases your BMI. Diets high in cholesterol and other unhealthy fats are recommended to diabetic patients because they include less sugar. Plant-based eating patterns can help you cut down on excess fat in your diet to help you combat type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Controlling your body weight is much easier on a plant-based diet.

Diabetics switch to a diet high in protein and low in sugars. That predisposes them to a variety of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disorders like hypertension. Such disorders aggravate whatever problems are occurring in your body due to diabetes. They also cause many unexpected deaths every year due to micro-vascular accidents. Plant-based foods don’t have these side effects. They don’t promote atherosclerosis which causes millions of unexpected, sudden deaths every year. The underlying cause for the accumulation of fat in blood vessels is usually a high consumption of processed meats.

A plant-based diet helps you avoid the problems that you would encounter after adding a lot of animal fats to your diet. It also reduces your risk of developing diabetes in many ways and improves diabetes care at home. Meat-based diets also have a lot of carcinogens. That is why vegan diets are considered to play a role in preventing cancer. Meat-eaters have an increased risk of colon cancer and many other types of cancers. Plant-based foods rich in dietary fiber prevent colon cancer and promote weight loss as well.

The Differences in a Conventional Diabetic Diet and a Vegan Diet

Diets that are high in protein are usually based on animal products and contain a lot of fatty foods as well. That increases risk factors for heart attacks and strokes that can lead to early death. A plant-based diet high in fiber and protein can easily replace such diabetic diets without increasing your fat consumption. Their health benefits include a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases as well.

Plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants that slow down aging. A conventional diet, on the other hand, increases the existing oxidative stress on the body. Meat is much more likely to bring in carcinogens or microorganisms that will speed up aging. That is why a plant-based diet can keep you safe from cancer as well.

Weight gain is one of the biggest problems associated with a diabetic diet. Chronic diabetes care usually leads to an abnormally high body mass index. A plant-based diet doesn’t have fats promoting weight gain. Plant foods are rich in fiber with a high satiety value that can help you feel full without increasing your calorie intake. They also reduce your insulin resistance. A reduction in insulin resistance is only one of the many health benefits of a plant-based diet that can reverse diabetes.

Mastering Diabetes, by Cyrus Khambatta PhD and Robby Barbaro MPH, is an excellent guidebook for anyone looking to better understand and manage their diabetes. The information is presented in an accessible way that is easy to follow and understand. Whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with diabetes for years, this book is sure to provide valuable insights into managing your condition in a healthy way.

How does a plant-based diet help reverse diabetes?

Complex Carbs Rather than Simple Sugars

Sugar-sweetened beverages and other processed foods are very harmful to patients with type 2 diabetes. They directly increase their blood sugar levels and reduce the glucose breakdown occurring in muscle cells. High blood glucose is a reason why diabetes leads to chronic kidney disease in most cases. Research suggests that many patients with type 2 diabetes die of kidney disease. [4]

Plant-based diets are different from a conventional diabetic diet in that they increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Plant-based diets don’t increase your blood sugars as quickly as processed foods. Glucose levels in your blood remain low, and your chances of developing many complications of type 2 diabetes are much lower.

Glucose and fructose are simple sugars. Fructose breaks down to form glucose very quickly when you ingest it in any kind of food. Processed foods and beverages are rich in both kinds of simple sugars. Artificial flavors raise blood sugar levels more quickly because they are based on glucose and fructose primarily.

Complex carbs have many health benefits, and plant-based foods are rich in complex carbs compared to a traditional diabetes diet. Such diets contain animal products and high-fat foods that can aggravate type 2 diabetes. Whole grains contain a lot of complex carbs that can also help control gestational diabetes. Glycemic control is all about making sure that you are eating foods with a lower glycemic index that will not raise your blood sugar. Whole grains are one of those components of a plant-based diet that promote glycemic control and help reverse type 2 diabetes.

Promote Weight Loss

A vegan diet can help you cut down on fatty foods and consume more fiber and protein. Your body will not be getting enough fats or simple carbs to start accumulating them. That is why it will have reduced insulin resistance as well. Weight gain can aggravate type 2 diabetes. On a plant-based diet, most of what you will consume will be fiber which will only promote digestion and help you feel full. You will consume fewer calories compared to what you would be consuming if you were on animal products and animal protein. Your body mass index will stay within a healthy range, and it will be easier for you to manage type 2 diabetes.

However, low-fat whole food plant-based diets can lack protein unless you are formulating them in an informed way. You are not consuming any animal protein at all, so it is easy to develop a protein deficiency. You have to make sure that you are adding enough protein to your plant-based diet by adding protein-rich components like whole grains, chia seeds, quinoa, and legumes. A high fiber intake is also very important for controlling body weight which is important for type 2 diabetes. Plant-based diets containing whole grains usually include a lot more fiber than meat-based diets. A high fruit and vegetable intake along with the consumption of rice and wheat ensures healthy digestion. It also promotes good liver and kidney health.

Promote weight loss

Reduced Blood Glucose Absorption and Reduced Blood Sugar Levels

Dietary fiber in whole-food plant-based diets reduces sugar absorption. It creates a lining against your intestinal wall that becomes a barrier to it. Reduced sugar absorption in the gut leads to lower blood sugar. That is why it becomes easier to combat type 2 diabetes and high blood sugar levels when you are on a low-fat plant-based diet.

Whatever plant foods you consume and no matter how much sugar they contain, your glucose levels will remain relatively low on a plant-based diet. That is primarily because a plant-based diet will interfere with sugar absorption. That also reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes at a relatively early age.

Increased Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin sensitivity is one of the most important factors that decide whether or not your body can keep its sugar levels under control. It matters more for people with diabetes type 1 because their primary issue is insulin resistance. That means that their pancreas produces enough insulin but their tissues are not responding to it.

Vegan diets sensitize your body tissues to insulin in multiple ways.[2] The first and most important way to increase your insulin sensitivity is by losing weight. Obese individuals are much more prone to insulin resistance and the resulting deterioration in their overall health. The pancreas produces insulin in normal individuals to keep strict control of glucose metabolism. Insulin lowers blood glucose in many ways. It promotes the breakdown of glucose and its conversion into its storage form as well.

Insulin’s ability to control glucose levels also depends on its ability to push glucose into muscle cells. Obese patients have a higher tendency to be insulin resistant. That is reinforced by a plant-based diet rich in whole foods like highly refined grains that significantly reduce blood sugar levels.

Increase insulin sensitivity

Lower Risk of Kidney Disease

Low-fat vegan diets are not only helpful in preventing cardiovascular accidents but also in preventing renal disease. Diabetes causes a lot of complications with time. Having chronically raised blood sugar levels can lead to kidney disease as well as eye disease. Kidney failure is the reason why most diabetics die an early death – before the age of 70. Accumulating a lot of damage to the kidneys over time due to high blood sugar levels is the reason for that. It interferes with the filtration of blood that is ongoing in your kidneys.

They have to take added stress from the high glucose levels, and their health deteriorates rapidly. When you are on a vegan diet, your blood sugar levels will be controlled in many ways. Glucose absorption is reduced and its metabolism is sped up by increased insulin sensitivity. Plant-based meals usually include green leafy vegetables that promote good kidney health. They also include limited calories compared to starchy vegetables. Managing diabetes is therefore much easier on a plant-based diet.

Lower Risk of Developing Diabetes

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes at a young age is much less in people on a plant-based diet compared to people eating animal foods. Insulin resistance is also more common in obese individuals that consume a lot of animal products. Whole plant foods reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes at an early age.

A vegetarian diet or a low-fat vegan diet can delay its onset and increase your lifespan. In 2019, 96 million Americans aged 18 or older had pre-diabetes according to the American Diabetes Association.[1] That means that they are going to develop diabetes at some point in their life sooner or later. That is why reducing the risk of developing diabetes is one of the most important health benefits of a plant-based diet.

Increased Life Span due to Reduced Risk Factors

Saturated fats are the underlying cause of a variety of micro-vascular accidents that can lead to early death. It causes the accumulation of fat in blood vessels. Muscle cells in vessels can be damaged by that, and vessels can lose their shape and also become obstructed. That increases the chances of heart disease. Plant-based meals don’t contain nearly as much saturated fat, and that is why they increase longevity and also help you cut down on excess weight.

Lower Risk of Developing Diabetes

How to Create the Perfect Plant-based Meal Plan That Works for Both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

You have to make sure that you are adding enough plant protein to avoid protein deficiencies due to a plant-based diet. Whole food plant-based components like legumes and seeds are very important in a vegetarian diet for type 2 diabetes. They help you control diabetes type 1 as well in many different ways and improve diabetes care at home. You also have to take care to exclude certain things from your vegetarian diet that can cause problems for you in the future. Animal products are high-fat foods but they also have certain minerals and vitamins that you must make a part of your plant-based diet as well.

Choose Foods with a Higher Glycemic Control

Maintaining low sugar levels is very important in type 2 diabetes. That is why insulin shots are required. Most patients with type 2 diabetes take an insulin shot before a meal so that their meals don’t raise their sugar levels. That is why it is important to include plant-based foods that have a low glycemic index and don’t increase blood glucose quickly. That reduces the need for insulin shots and helps control type 2 diabetes.

Plant-based foods containing whole grains have a lot of complex carbs. Complex carbs don’t break down to form simple sugars quickly. That is why they have a low glycemic index and promote glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. You should consume more green vegetables as a part of your vegetarian meal plan because they have a very low glycemic index. Raw carrots are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals in addition to being a food with a very low glycemic index. Other foods that you can safely consume for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Kidney beans – protein-rich and essential for a plant-based diet
  • Chickpeas – also rich in plant protein and a good source of fiber
  • Bran breakfast cereals – great for improved digestive motility and health
  • Lentils
  • Tomato
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce, broccoli – leafy greens with a lot of necessary minerals and vitamins needed in a plant-based diet
  • Strawberries
  • Apples – rich in iron, the nutrient that is usually deficient in plant-based diets lacking animal products
  • Pears

There are also some foods with a medium glycemic index that you can easily consume without worrying about worsening type 2 diabetes. Oats and milk are included in those foods, although milk is not a part of a vegan meal plan. Milk and dairy products are a part of vegetarian diets. They don’t usually have a very high GI, so you can consume them relatively safely compared to foods with a very high GI. Listed below are some foods that you should look out for because of their high GI:

  • Processed packaged foods – especially artificially sweetened beverages, corn chips, pretzels
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes
  • White rice – is known to increase the chances of developing diabetes at an earlier age
  • Fast food – fried chicken, pizza, cheeseburgers
  • Doughnuts and other bakery sweets and cereals that are not made out of whole grains. [5]
Plant-based foods to reverse diabetes

Avoid High Fat Foods

High-fat foods can cause a problem even when you are on a plant-based diet. They can increase your insulin resistance as well. Higher fat levels have been proven to cause a reduction in your body’s ability to metabolize glucose. That means that your body is producing enough insulin but your tissues are unable to use it. That is why it is important to limit the intake of high-fat foods even when you are on a vegetarian diet. The fattiest foods in a plant-based diet are probably nuts like cashew, peanuts, almonds, etc. They are important to give you enough minerals and vitamins when you are not consuming animal products.

However, the fats they contain are not unhealthy like saturated fats which can cause the accumulation of fat in vessel walls. The metabolism of good fats or unsaturated fats is such that they remain concentrated in the liver. They are stored there and do not remain in circulation long enough to get stuck there. That is why it is recommended that you add some nuts to your plant-based diet to make sure that it meets your body’s nutritional needs.

Choose Foods Rich in Fiber

Make sure that your diet plan includes enough fiber to keep your digestion healthy even if you are eating less than you would on a diet containing animal protein. You should also make sure that you are adding the right kind of whole food plant-based meals to your diet. For example, brown rice has been shown to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes while white rice has been shown to increase it.[6] Certain fiber-rich plant foods are much better at reversing type 2 diabetes than others, and you have to make sure that you are adding the right ones to your plant-based diet.

Conclusion

Switching to a plant-based diet can help you control diabetes in many ways. Patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, and diabetes mellitus have all shown positive results after switching to a plant-based diet. However, you have to make sure that you are choosing the right plant-based foods to add to your new vegetarian diet. Avoiding nutritional deficiencies is very important and requires adequate plant protein, mineral, and vitamin consumption.

Sources

[1] American Diabetes Association. (2022). Statistics About Diabetes. Retrieved January 28, 2023, from https://diabetes.org/about-us/statistics/about-diabetes

[2] Chen, P., Zhao, Y., & Chen, Y. (2022). A vegan diet improves insulin resistance in individuals with obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetology & metabolic syndrome, 14(1), 114. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35964120/

[3] Baleato, C. L., Ferguson, J. J. A., Oldmeadow, C., Mishra, G. D., & Garg, M. L. (2022). Plant-Based Dietary Patterns versus Meat Consumption and Prevalence of Impaired Glucose Intolerance and Diabetes Mellitus: A Cross-Sectional Study in Australian Women. Nutrients, 14(19), 4152. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36235806/

[4] Cases A, Cigarrán-Guldrís S, Mas S, Gonzalez-Parra E. Vegetable-Based Diets for Chronic Kidney Disease? It Is Time to Reconsider. Nutrients. 2019 Jun 4;11(6):1263. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627351/

[5] Cleveland Clinic. (2021). What Is the Glycemic Index? Retrieved January 28, 2023, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/glycemic-index/

[6] Yu, J., Balaji, B., Tinajero, M., Jarvis, S., Khan, T., Vasudevan, S., Ranawana, V., Poobalan, A., Bhupathiraju, S., Sun, Q., Willett, W., Hu, F. B., Jenkins, D. J. A., Mohan, V., & Malik, V. S. (2022). White rice, brown rice and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ open, 12(9), e065426. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36167362/

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The content provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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