Why plant-based diets are good for type2 diabetes

I am a firm believer in introducing more and more plant-based foods into diets. This won’t only be beneficial for the planet but also for our health. As a nutritional therapist, my role is not to “convince” clients to go vegan or vegetarian but to balance their diet and suggest changes to achieve health goals. Something I notice very often when analysing my client’s food diary, is the heavy reliance of meat and cheese as the main protein sources; Might be for convenience (a steak is quick and easy to cook, and a ham sandwich is filling and cheap), habit or personal taste.
When working with diabetic and pre-diabetic clients, one of the first interventions I suggest is to increase the quantity of plant-based proteins while reducing the animal-based ones. When creating a plan for diabetes prevention of management I don’t strictly focus on macronutrient ratios, but instead on eating patterns and actual foods; Evidence suggests that the type and source of carbohydrates (unrefined versus refined), fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated versus saturated and trans), and proteins (plant versus animal) play a major role in the prevention and management of this condition, more than macros.
Plant-based protein sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and tempeh should be part of a healthy diet to support diabetic patients.
A 2019 study highlights that in individuals who are suggested to lose weight to manage or prevent diabetes if the consumption of animal proteins stays high, insulin sensitivity doesn’t improve even after substantial weight loss. The same study points out that if weight loss is achieved by diets such as ketogenic (which restricts carbs and increases consumption of fats and animal proteins), insulin resistance is increased, as well as the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
These findings are confirmed by the 2018 Rotterdam study (a prospective population-based cohort study on more than 6000 people) that highlights that a more plant-based approach may lower risk of insulin resistance, prediabetes and T2D.
A dietary approach such as the Mediterranean diet, which features plenty of legumes and vegetables, monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, complex carbs and a few animal-based proteins, is ideal for promoting better insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control. The Mediterranean diet and plant-based diets can also have a beneficial impact in T2D-related mechanisms, because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds in fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Increasing vegetables and plant-based proteins can make the difference when trying to manage diabetes and pre-diabetes, and a nutritional therapist can help you find the best recipes and food combinations for you to introduce this new foods in your diet.

REFERENCES

Adeva-Andany, M., González-Lucán, M., Fernández-Fernández, C., Carneiro-Freire, N., Seco-Filgueira, M. and Pedre-Piñeiro, A., 2019. Effect of diet composition on insulin sensitivity in humans. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, 33, pp.29-38.

Chen, Z., Franco, O., Lamballais, S., Ikram, M., Schoufour, J., Muka, T. and Voortman, T., 2020. Associations of specific dietary protein with longitudinal insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: The Rotterdam Study. Clinical Nutrition, 39(1), pp.242-249.

Chen, Z., Zuurmond, M., van der Schaft, N., Nano, J., Wijnhoven, H., Ikram, M., Franco, O. and Voortman, T., 2018. Plant versus animal based diets and insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: the Rotterdam Study. European Journal of Epidemiology, 33(9), pp.883-893.

Esposito, K., Maiorino, M., Bellastella, G., Chiodini, P., Panagiotakos, D. and Giugliano, D., 2015. A journey into a Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review with meta-analyses. BMJ Open, 5(8), p.e008222.

Martín-Peláez, S., Fito, M. and Castaner, O., 2020. Mediterranean Diet Effects on Type 2 Diabetes Prevention, Disease Progression, and Related Mechanisms. A Review. Nutrients, 12(8), p.2236.

Rose, S., 2017. The Prevention and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus with a Plant-Based Diet. Endocrinology&Metabolism International Journal, 5(5).

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