Fighting type-2 diabetes with a vegan diet

Read Time:   |  20th March 2017

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Veronika Powell from VivaHealth! explains how type 2 diabetes can be completely managed with a vegan diet.

Diabetes is no fun; it can make you unwell, increase the risk of many other conditions and reduce your quality of life. The good news is, type 2 diabetes is preventable and, should you happen to have it already, potentially reversible.

Diet is the key. More and more health professionals now recommend a substantial diet change and many type 2 diabetic patients are successfully reversing their condition. 

The big issue in diabetes is high blood sugar, a result of the body’s sugar metabolism – governed by the hormone insulin – working incorrectly.

This has a knock-on effect on other systems in the body, increasing blood cholesterol and fat levels, damaging the eyes, kidneys and nerve endings and can lead to insensitivity in hands and feet.

Type 2 diabetes is usually (but not always) linked to increased body weight and especially to abdominal obesity.

When the body’s metabolism can’t keep up with the amount and type of food eaten, droplets of fat are stored under the skin, but also in muscle and liver cells. Where and how you store fat is largely genetic.

When the amount of fat in the cells reaches a certain level, it reduces the cells’ ability to react to insulin correctly, leading to insulin resistance. Studies show the resistance in muscles and the liver is strongly linked to fat storage in these tissues.

With the right kind of diet, you can not only prevent this happening, but also treat the condition.

Studies where type 2 diabetics were prescribed a combination of diet change and mild exercise resulted in them being able to discontinue or significantly reduce medicating, in as little as three weeks!

The research is convincing – a wholesome, low-fat vegan diet is the best for reversing type 2 diabetes.

It helps the body reduce fat stores in its cells, improves blood sugar control, reduces blood cholesterol, helps to induce weight loss without restricting portion sizes, prevents continued kidney and nerve damage and helps to lower blood pressure.

The usefulness of vegan diets was even endorsed by the American Diabetes Association in their 2010 Clinical Practice Guidelines.

Basic principles of the diet

1st principle – no animal products

By eliminating all animal products you avoid eating substantial amounts of fat and your cholesterol intake will be zero.

Most of the fat found in animal products is saturated and there’s absolutely no requirement for saturated fat in our diet.

Another good reason for avoiding all animal products is because animal protein from meat, fish, dairy and eggs places an additional strain on the kidneys and can increase the damage already caused by diabetes. Protecting kidneys is a key issue for diabetics.

All foods should be of plant origin and unrefined wherever possible, which means they will be naturally high in fibre and complex carbohydrates.

Animal products contain no fibre or healthy carbohydrates, while plant foods (supplemented with vitamin B12) contain all the essential nutrients we need.

2nd principle – low-fat

Even though plant fats are healthier, it is important to keep them to a minimum. In order to reverse or improve diabetes, it is essential to reduce fat stores inside the cells and this can only happen if you avoid excessive fat consumption.

The amount of fat per serving should be three grams maximum (just 10 per cent of calories should come from fat).

Apart from added oils, you might need to curb the amount of nuts and seeds you eat.

Within the low-fat rule, the best sources of healthy, omega-3 fats are flaxseed, hempseed and walnuts (for snacking or adding to dishes) and rapeseed oil for cooking.

3rd principle – low glycemic index (GI)

Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how carbohydrates in food affect your blood sugar. Carbohydrates that are digested fast and rapidly release glucose into the blood and have a high GI.

Carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream, have a low GI.

To help the body use energy effectively and prevent sugar highs and lows, it’s important to focus on slow-releasing, low-GI foods.

But bear in mind that it’s the overall GI that counts, so you can combine low and medium GI foods to achieve the desired lower GI effect.

  • Low GI foods include: most fruits and vegetables, pulses (beans, soya, peas, lentils, chickpeas), barley, buckwheat, hummus, pasta, nuts and seeds, sweet potatoes, dried apricots and prunes, rolled oats, all-bran cereals, wholegrain pumpernickel bread, soya yoghurt.
  • Medium GI foods include: wholemeal and rye bread, crispbread, brown rice, basmati rice, corn, porridge oats, shredded wheat, pineapple, cantaloupe melon, figs, raisins and beans in tomato sauce.
  • High GI foods (to avoid) include: potatoes, rice cakes, watermelon, pumpkin, white bread, white rice, cornflakes, sweet cereal, dates and sugary foods.

A vegan diet based on these principles is the healthiest possible, but it is advised you take a vitamin B12 supplement or eat enough B12 enriched foods.

Vitamin B12 requirements may be higher in diabetics taking the drug Metformin as it can reduce B12 absorption.

Whether you’re at risk of or have type 2 diabetes, your diet should be based on wholegrains, pulses, soya, vegetables, fruit and nuts and seeds. This limits the types of food you can eat, but not the amount.

Being high in fibre and digested gradually, it makes you feel full sooner and for longer and the calorie intake is reduced by the minimal amount of fat it contains. Research shows that diabetics who follow this type of vegan diet get better results than any single drug can produce!

Written by

Veronika Charvatova

Veronika Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

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