Heather Russell explains how a vegan diet can help you to manage type 2 diabetes...
Although veganism is an ethical lifestyle, many people take an interest in the dietary aspects for health reasons.
However, in contrast, The Vegan Society’s research suggests that there are also some vegan-curious individuals who have health concerns about transitioning to a totally plant-based diet, including people with long-term conditions.
Type 2 in a nutshell
Every type of diabetes causes a high level of blood glucose. In type 2, insulin doesn’t work properly or you can’t produce enough of it, whereas type 1 is an autoimmune condition that always requires insulin treatment because the pancreas can’t make any insulin.
A healthy lifestyle is a key element of the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes, which affects millions of people in the UK. Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, so this is an area of focus. Working towards or maintaining a healthy weight is also key.
Well-planned vegan diets contain plenty of health-promoting plant foods like wholegrains, fruit, nuts and vegetables, including legumes (beans, pea and lentils).
This goes some way to explaining why studies of real-life vegan diets have linked them to lower rates of type 2 diabetes and lower body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease.
Some clinical research suggests that vegan diets can help people to manage their type 2 diabetes and work towards a healthy weight.
According to Diabetes UK, “they fit well with the current dietary guidelines for people with diabetes”.
The short-term aim of type 2 diabetes management is to keep blood glucose levels stable and within target. This involves balancing carbohydrate portions with activity levels and medications if applicable.
Some people find it helpful to spread out their carbohydrate intake across the day and avoid consuming large amounts in one go. Choosing carbohydrate sources that release glucose slowly may also be helpful.
Here are some vegan-friendly tips relating to carbohydrate awareness:
- Eating carbohydrate-rich foods with sources of protein and/or fat may help to reduce blood glucose spikes, e.g. spread peanut butter on granary bread, stir ground linseed (flaxseed) into porridge.
- Although they are not major sources, vegetables like legumes, butternut squash and sweetcorn contain some slow-release carbohydrate.
- The carbohydrate contents of dairy alternatives are variable, so check the ‘Total carbohydrate’ on the label of your favourite varieties to increase your awareness. Unsweetened, fortified alternatives to yoghurt and milk are great choices.
If you have type 2 diabetes and you’re considering dietary changes, it’s a good idea to talk to your local healthcare team.
This is especially important if you use medication that carries a risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose).
A dietitian is in the best position to provide you with individualised nutrition advice.
For general information about vegan diets, check out the resources at www.vegansociety.com/nutrition.