Reducing the Risk: Go Vegetarian

Vegetarian and vegan diets offer significant benefits for diabetes prevention, treatment, and reversal of type 2 diabetes,in many cases. In observational studies, individuals following vegetarian diets are about half as likely to develop diabetes, compared with non-vegetarians.1 Clinical trials show that individuals with type 2 diabetes who consume a low-fat vegan diet improve blood sugar control to a greater extent than conventional diabetes diets. Vegetarian and vegan diets also improve plasma lipid by reducing the total cholesterol, LDL (“the bad cholesterol”), and triglycerides. A vegan diet has been shown to reverse atherosclerosis progression when combined with exercise and stress management.

Mountains of Evidence

Researchers from the Loma Linda University examined 8,401 participants (ages 45-88 years) and followed them for 17 years. They discovered:

  • Subjects who were weekly consumers of all meats were 29% more likely to develop diabetes than those who ate no meat.
  • Subjects who consumed any processed meats (salted fish and frankfurters) were 38% more likely to develop diabetes.
  • Long-term adherence (over a 17-year interval) to a diet that included at least weekly meat intake was associated with a 74% increase in odds of diabetes relative to long-term adherence to a vegetarian diet (zero meat intake)
  • Although some of this might be attributable to obesity, the researchers found that,“even after control for weight and weight change, weekly meat intake remained an important risk factor.”2

Seven Additional Benefits!

Researchers from the George Washington University screened and followed/up on the employees of a major insurance corporation who had a body mass index of 25 (or more) kg/m, and/or a previous diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Some of the participants received weekly group instruction, for 22 weeks, on a low-fat vegan diet, and others received no diet instruction at all. The vegan group reported improvements in general health, physical functioning, mental health, vitality, and overall diet satisfaction compared with the control group. They also reported a decrease in food costs compared with the control group. The vegan group reported a 40-46% decrease in health-related productivity impairments at work and in regular daily activities.

In a different study, researchers from George Washington University studied 99 individuals with type 2 diabetes. Some were randomly assigned to a low-fat vegan diet (with no limits on calories, carbohydrate, or portion sizes), and others were given a diet following the American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines. Participants were evaluated at baseline and then in 22 weeks. The results were as follows:

  • Forty-three percent (21 of 49) of the vegan group reduced their diabetes medications, verses 26% (13 of 50) following the ADA diet.
  • Including all participants, HbA(1c) (A1C) decreased 0.96 percentage points in the vegan group and 0.56 points in the ADA group
  • Excluding those who changed medications, A1C fell 1.23 points in the vegan group compared with 0.38 points in the ADA group.
  • Body weight decreased 6.5 kg in the vegan group and 3.1 kg in the ADA group.
  • Body weight change correlated with A1C change. Among those who did not change lipid-lowering medications, LDL cholesterol fell 21.2% in the vegan group and 10.7% in the ADA group.
  • After adjustment for baseline values, urinary albumin reductions were greater in the vegan group than in the ADA group. In other words, the vegans had healthier kidneys than those in the ADA group.
  • All this with no limits on calories, carbohydrate, or portion sizes!3

Vegan Diet Helps to Reduce Diabetic Complications

A vegetarian diet, or a well-balanced vegan diet can help prevent or improve diabetic complications. A plant based diet with almonds, walnuts, peanuts, etc., fiber from oats and barley, soy proteins, and plant sterols, reduces serum lipids (total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides) which are often elevated in diabetes. Plant foods also reduce inflammation, a common problem in diabetic individuals. Substituting soy or other vegetable proteins for animal protein may reduce the risk of developing renal disease in type 2 diabetes.4

Help for Neuropathy

Those diabetics with neuropathy from type 2 diabetes can quickly experience less pain by adhereing to a low-fat, whole-food vegan diet, coupled with daily exercise such as walking. Increased blood viscosity and impaired microcirculation to the nerves play an important role in developing diabetic neuropathy. Vegan diets, as well as exercise training, may help to decrease the viscosity of both whole blood and plasma and decrease the proclotting protein fibrinogen.5


While the vegan diet is certainly the winner, one must know how to plan a menu and how to cook before going completely vegan. A vegan diet becomes impoverished if one does not eat a variety of whole grains, fresh or frozen fruits, and vegetables, legumes, and nuts. The online College of Health Evangelism offers a vegan cooking class for a modest price. If one is eating a mixed diet of plant foods and meat, it would be wiser to adopt a lacto-ova-vegetarian diet and learn the principles of nutrition before going strictly vegetarian (vegan). If one is a vegan, he should obtain vitamin B-12 and possibly vitamin D from either fortified foods or a modest vitamin supplement.

The Sum of the Matter

In conclusion,“Long-term cohort studies have indicated that whole-grain consumption reduces the risk of both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In addition, nuts (eg, almonds), viscous fibers (eg, fibers from oats and barley), soy proteins, and plant sterols, which may be part of the vegetarian diet, reduce serum lipids. In combination, these plant food components may have a very significant impact on cardiovascular disease, one of the major complications of diabetes” The vegetarian diet, therefore, contains a portfolio of natural products and food forms of benefit for both the carbohydrate and lipid abnormalities in diabetes. It is anticipated that their combined use in vegetarian diets will produce very significant metabolic advantages for the prevention and treatment of diabetes and its complications.”6



  1. Barnard, Neal, et al, Vegetarian and Vegan Diets in the Type 2 Diabetes Management
  2. Katcher, HI, et al., Ann Nutr Metab, 2010;56(4):245-52. Epub 2010 Apr 14.A worksite vegan nutrition program is well-accepted and improves health-related quality of life and work productivity.
  3. Barnard, ND, et al, A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes, Diabetes Care, 2006 Aug;29(8):1777-83.
  4. Anderson, JW, Beneficial effects of soy protein consumption for renal function, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2008;17 Suppl 1:324-8.
  5. McCarty, M., Favorable impact of a vegan diet with exercise on hemorheology; implication for control of diabetic neuropathy, Med Hypotheses, 2002, June; 58(6):476-86
  6. D.J. Jenkins and Neal Barnard, Type 2 diabetes and the vegetarian diet, Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):610S-616S.