Natalie Shemesh | Registered Dietitian
Diabetes is the one of the leading causes of death in the world and its prevalence is rising. It is also a risk factor for other chronic diseases that may be fatal such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
Diabetes increases the risk for many serious health problems such as blindness, neuropathy, impaired injury healing, gastroparesis, kidney failure and limb amputation.
The good news? A vegan diet has been found to be associated with a lower risk of diabetes. For example, researchers found a 70% lower risk for vegans in the Adventist community study in the US, compared to omnivores.
More good news? Studies also show that a vegan diet can be very helpful in maintaining better glucose and lipid levels in diabetic patients. Therefore, it may reduce risk of complications. One interventional study even found that a low-fat vegan diet is more beneficial than the dietary recommendations of the American Diabetes Association.
But what about the carbs? Contrary to common belief, diabetes is not caused by eating a lot of carbs. It is a complex disease with both genetic and behavioral factors. The western diet – high in animal products, sugar, salt and fat and low in whole, plant-based foods and fiber – is strongly associated with an increased risk of diabetes. On the other hand, decreased risk of diabetes is associated with high consumption of vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
But can a diabetic eat a high-carb diet? Yes. Even the ADA recommends that 45-65% of the calories consumed per day should be from carbs. The trick is to use the right type of carbs and to eat small portions throughout that day. Consuming complex carbohydrates from fiber-rich, whole, plant-based foods – legumes and whole grains – divided into small portions throughout the day can be a great strategy for diabetic patients.
For people with diabetes it is recommended to meet a vegan-friendly dietitian in order to get a personalized eating plan.