A vegan diet may be best for keeping type 2 diabetes in check, according to a review of research evidence that found munching fruit, veg and nuts was good for both mental and physical health.
The systematic review published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care found a mainly plant-based or vegan diet was linked to improved wellbeing as well as weight loss and lower blood sugar, which reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
“Plant-based diets accompanied by educational interventions can significantly improve… the management of diabetes”
Researchers from the University of London, University of Northampton and East Sussex Healthcare Trust trawled through the available evidence and identified 11 relevant clinical trials published between 1999 and 2017.
Each compared plant-based diets with other types of diet and focused on people with type 2 diabetes or included them in the study group.
Eight assessed the impact of a vegan diet and six included patients being given information on nutrition to help them understand the benefits of a plant based diet.
In all, 433 people took part in the trials which lasted 23 weeks on average.
Analysis of the results found quality of life – both physical and emotional – improved only in those patients on a plant based or vegan diet.
Meanwhile, symptoms of depression improved significantly only among these groups.
The researchers found a greater improvement in nerve pain among those on plant-based diets, while a significant loss of temperature control in the feet among the comparison group suggested eating mainly plant-based foods may have slowed nerve damage associated with diabetes.
Average blood glucose – HbA1c – and fasting blood glucose levels fell more sharply in those who cut out or ate very few animal products and these participants lost nearly twice as much weight.
A drop in blood fats – a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease – was also greater in those on plant based or vegan diets.
In six of the studies, those following a plant based or vegan diet were able to cut down or discontinue the drugs they were taking for their diabetes and associated underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure.
“Future studies could explore ways of delivering proper nutritional education”
Overall, the results indicated that even though the plant based diets were more difficult to follow, at least to begin with, participants stuck to them better than those in the comparison groups.
“Based on the evidence of the research analysis by this systematic review, it can be concluded that plant-based diets accompanied by educational interventions can significantly improve psychological health, quality of life, HbA1c levels and weight, and therefore the management of diabetes,” said the researchers.
Plant-based diets could also potentially improve diabetic neuropathic pain and help lower the overall risk of cardiovascular disease – one of the main causes of premature death among people with diabetes. However, the study team said further research was needed.
“There is further need of studies to explore the relationship between psychological health, dietary patterns/behaviour and diabetes control,” they said in their paper.
“Future studies could explore ways of delivering proper nutritional education in order to support participants to follow healthier dietary patterns,” they added.