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Could a Vegan Diet Help Manage Type 1 Diabetes?

Home » Health » Could a Vegan Diet Help Manage Type 1 Diabetes?

This first-of-its-kind research found that a plant-based diet reduces the need for insulin while improving insulin sensitivity and heart health.

A plant-based diet has long been thought of as an effective way to manage type 2 diabetes. The disease, which is often preventable, affects how your body processes glucose for energy, which stops it from using insulin properly and leads to high levels of blood sugar if left untreated. This disease can cause serious damage to the body, mainly to the nerves and blood vessels. However, a healthy lifestyle contributes positively to type 2 diabetes’s onset and management—factors such as maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising regularly, and filling your diet with legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and nuts, while limiting your intake of refined, processed foods and animal products is highly beneficial for preventing and treating the disease.

But it’s a bit of a different story when it comes to type 1 diabetes. In this case, the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin’s main job is to move glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells to make energy; without it, or without enough of it, glucose builds up in the bloodstream and is unable to provide energy to the cells. Whereas individuals with type 2 diabetes have some control over prevention and management, type 1 diabetes can develop suddenly and be caused by unknown factors, leading sufferers to have to turn to insulin injections or pumps to manage their symptoms.

Taking Back Control

While being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes means taking long-term management measures for a chronic disease, new research is now showing that adhering to a plant-based diet can spell good news for those affected. In a first-of-its-kind study, a vegan diet proved to reduce the need for insulin, improve insulin sensitivity, and promote heart health for those living with type 1 diabetes.

Conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolism in March 2024, the randomized clinical trial studied two groups: one that followed a low-fat vegan diet and didn’t adhere to calorie restriction, and one that followed a non-vegan diet but reduced their usual caloric intake. Participants followed their diets for 12 weeks and took note of their nutrient intake and insulin dosages at each meal.

The Results

Researchers found notable differences in each group by the end of the trial. For one, participants in the vegan group lost an average of 11 pounds, while the non-vegan group saw no significant weight changes. Additionally, the vegan group saw a 28 percent reduction in insulin needs and a 127 percent improvement in insulin sensitivity. Heart disease and diabetes often co-occur, so the researchers also conducted lipid panels once the trial completed. The result? Both groups reduced their cholesterol, but the vegan group saw a larger reduction.

“With the cost of insulin remaining a concern for many, our groundbreaking research shows that a low-fat vegan diet that doesn’t restrict carbs may be the prescription for reducing insulin needs, managing blood sugar levels, and improving heart health in people with type 1 diabetes,” says Hana Kahleova, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Takeaway

A plant-based diet, known for managing type 2 diabetes, shows promise for type 1 diabetes too, according to a recent study in Clinical Diabetes. The research found that a low-fat vegan diet led to weight loss, reduced insulin needs, improved insulin sensitivity, and better heart health in participants compared to a non-vegan diet with reduced calories. This suggests that a plant-based diet could ease the management of type 1 diabetes by reducing insulin dependency and improving overall health.

To add more plant-based meals into your diet, head to https://healthfulgourmet.com/ or pick up our vegan cookbook featuring 69 delicious and easy recipes.

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