Vegan Diets And Diabetes: What You Need To Know
Few diseases have managed to become as much of a health epidemic as diabetes.
At this time, the Center for Disease Control estimates that roughly a third of the total US population (and half of adults over 65) have prediabetes and are at risk for developing the full disease within five years.
Currently, 20 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, which is triple the number from just thirty years ago.
Those who develop the disease find themselves at risk for a host of other health problems, including kidney failure, vision loss, amputations and even premature death.
While diabetes is a difficult chronic disease for millions of people to live through, the evidence shows that it might be entirely preventable and possibly even reversible.
By following a healthy, plant-based diet, you can keep your risk of diabetes low and reduce your symptoms if you develop it.
To learn more about the effects of healthy eating on chronic illness, keep reading to find out about the connection between vegan diets and diabetes, and the ways you can alleviate some of the most unpleasant symptoms by cutting animal products out of your life for good.
What Is Diabetes?
Coming from the Greek word for ‘passing through’, Diabetes is defined as a condition caused by chronically elevated blood sugar levels.
The reasons for this elevation can be varied, from your pancreas not making enough insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar) or because your body no longer responds to the insulin it does have.
Whichever the cause, too much sugar in your blood can overwhelm the kidneys, spill into your urine, and cause negative effects throughout your body.
TYPE ONE DIABETES
Previously called juvenile-onset diabetes, type 1 diabetes makes up just 5 percent of all diabetes cases in the world today.
This kind of diabetes is largely genetic and usually caused by an overactive immune system that mistakenly destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
Without the regulatory effects of insulin, blood sugar levels rise to unsafe levels and cause health problems.
The condition can be treated with regular injections of insulin to make up for the lack of natural production.
TYPE TWO DIABETES
Previously called adult onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is responsible for over 95 percent of cases around the world, children as well as adults.
For this condition, the pancreas manages to make insulin, but the body doesn’t respond to it like it should because fat layers inside cells interfere with it.
In this way, saturated fat seems to “lock” the doors to cells and prevent insulin from getting in to regulate the blood sugar.
This causes blood sugar levels to rise to dangerous levels and cause the classic health problems associated with diabetes.
Causes Of Diabetes
While the exact cause of diabetes is still unknown, the vast majority of cases of type 2 diabetes appear to be caused by lifestyle factors.
Diet and exercise can make a tremendous difference for your overall risk levels, as the digestive system breaks down the carbohydrates in your diet into the sugar glucose that fuels each cell in the body.
Insulin is necessary for glucose to get into these cells, and every meal releases insulin from your pancreas into your body.
Without it, glucose simply builds up in your body, where the excess sugar can cause damage to blood vessels over time, leading to kidney failure, blindness, heart attacks and death.
This same glucose can cause nerve damage too, which is why diabetics often experience tingling throughout their bodies and lose sensitivity in their extremities.
So, what’s responsible for stopping insulin from working?
Within hours of eating meals full of saturated fat, that thick, gelatinous fat floats through your bloodstream.
White blood cells immediately get to work destroying this fat, and in the process, inflame and irritate blood vessels, making it harder for them to process sugar.
This stops cells from absorbing energy as efficiently as they should.
Due to fat’s role in diabetes, the number one risk factor for the disease is excess body weight.
How Do Plant-Based Diets Work Against Diabetes?
Because diabetes is triggered by your lifestyle, it’s both preventable and treatable if you choose to follow a healthy, plant-based diet that’s low in sugar and saturated fats.
People who follow plant-based diets have a lower risk of diabetes than the rest of the population, and even simply cutting back your meat consumption to just once a week will dramatically lower your risks.
Besides avoiding the high levels of saturated fat in meat, eating less meat means that you are eating more fiber-filled plants, and fiber slows down digestion so that sugars are released gradually rather than all at once.
This keeps blood sugar from rising to inflated levels and lowers blood pressure.
Could Type Two Diabetes Be Reversed With A Vegan Diet?
Reversing diabetes is a term that refers to a significant long-term improvement in insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.
According to research, people eating plant-based diets have better insulin sensitivity, improved function in their insulin-producing cells, and better blood sugar levels.
This means that eating a vegan or vegetarian diet makes your body better at both producing and using insulin.
Studies have recently shown that diabetes can managed and that the symptoms of the disease can possibly be reversed through healthy plant-based eating, regardless of your calorie counts.
Studies where participants were either assigned a plant-based diet or told to cut 500 calories from their diet found that the vegans had the lowest risk of diabetes and levels of unhealthy belly fat, simply because plant foods are naturally nutrient dense and low in calories.
In the same way, reviews of multiple studies have revealed that following a plant-based diet can lead to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lower blood sugar levels, even beyond what can be expected from following the standard Diabetic diet recommended by the American Diabetic Association.
Diabetes is a leading cause of death in the western world and a difficult chronic disease to suffer from. However, it’s far from inevitable.
By following a vegan diet, you can improve the efficiency of your body to process insulin and dramatically reduce the overall risk for developing the disease.
There are few things that benefit the human body as much as following a plant-based diet, and going vegan can make a major difference for anyone that suffers from diabetes.
Let’s hear from you. Have you found relief from chronic disease by changing your diet? We’d love to learn more about your experience, so please share it below.
- Centers for Desease Control and Prevention
- Nutrition Facts
- H. Kahleova, M. Matoulek, H. Malinska, O. Oliyarnik, L. Kazdova, T. Neskudla, A. Skoch, M. Hajek, M. Hill, M. Kahle, T. Pelikanova: Vegetarian diet improves insulin resistance and oxidative stress markers more than conventional diet in subjects with Type 2 diabetes, 2011
- C. Trapp, N. Barnard: Usefulness of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets for Treating Type 2 Diabetes, 2010
- American Diabetes Association