A vegan diet may protect you from diabetes

6 September 2017

Of the many benefits of going plant-based, this ranks up there at the top.

Did you know:
• In the US, over 30 million people have diabetes – that is more than 9% of the population. This number includes the 23 million who know they have the disease, and the 7 million who are not yet diagnosed.

• Each year, there are an estimated 1.5 million new cases of diabetes in adults

• 132,000 children and adolescents younger than 18 years have diabetes

• About 84 million of us have “prediabetes” – high blood sugar that is detrimental to health, but not yet considered full-blown diabetes

There is a commercial on television right now that shows that Americans do not fully understand the impact of having diabetes. Here are some scary facts:

• Diabetes, in 2015, was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States

• Long term complications developing from uncontrolled high blood sugar include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, skin conditions and Alzheimer’s disease.

• The average medical expenditure for those diagnosed with diabetes is about $13,700 per year. These average medical costs are 2.3 times higher than in those without diabetes.

Most health professionals will first tell you the obvious – you must change your lifestyle. You must clean up your diet and get more exercise to better control both weight (which can contribute to insulin resistance) and circulating blood sugar levels.

When you first think of a diabetic diet, you think restriction – especially carbs. However, when you restrict grains and starchy vegetables, too often you replace the missing space on your plate with meat. This could be detrimental to your health as well.

Researchers with Duke-NUS Medical School have found that higher intakes of meat and poultry is associated with significantly increased risk of developing diabetes. Specifically, those who ate the most red meat and poultry had a 23% and 15% increased risk, respectively. The researchers suspect that this is related to heme iron content. Iron is an important mineral for human health. However, high intake of heme iron (from meat) is associated with inflammation and damage to the organs and arteries. In past studies, excess heme iron from meat intake is associated with heart disease and possibly even cancer.

Adopting a vegetarian/vegan diet, in addition to removing harmful heme iron and other concerns that come with meat intake, also tends to increase the amount of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients in one’s diet. Of course, this is true if you are specifically focusing on whole-foods in your plant-based diet.

Processed foods, while they may be vegetarian or vegan, often contain refined flour and are devoid of vitamins and minerals, so they would not have the same benefit of controlling blood sugar as do fresh foods.

If you are not quite ready for a vegan diet, the researchers in the study suggest you at least significantly limit intake of red meat and poultry in favor of fish and shellfish. “A healthy and balanced diet should contain sufficient and varied protein sources, including healthier alternatives to red meat such as fish, tofu and legumes," said Dr Annie Ling, Director, Policy, Research and Surveillance Division, Health Promotion Board.

Journal Reference:
Mohammad Talaei, Ye-Li Wang, Jian-Min Yuan, An Pan, Woon-Puay Koh. Meat, Dietary Heme Iron, and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwx156

Additional Resources:
Diabetes.org
Mayo Clinic
Live Science

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