Do you want to lose weight and improve your blood glucose levels? Do you want to do it without having to weigh your portions and count your calories? Try a low-fat vegan diet. A vegan diet is one with no animal products: no fish, no eggs, no dairy, and, of course, no meat.
Caroline Trapp, MSN, BC-ADM, CDE, is director of diabetes education and care at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org), in Washington, D.C., a group that promotes vegan diets, among its other missions. She started her presentation at the AADE meeting with research findings on vegan diets (see below) and gave practical tips for switching to a vegan diet.
First, discuss your plans with a healthcare professional. A big change in your diet will likely lead to changes in your blood glucose levels. Get guidelines on adjusting your medications, especially if you use insulin. Ask your dietitian about subtracting fiber from the total carbs in your meals.
Trapp recommends committing to at least a three-week trial and going for it a hundred percent. Don’t just cut down on meat and cheese. Trapp says that if you eliminate these foods from your diet, you’ll lose your taste for them. She recalled how she used to love brie cheese before she switched to a vegan diet. “Now, brie smells like old socks to me,” she said.
Your diet will come from four food groups: fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and legumes such as beans and lentils. Avoid high-fat foods such as nuts, added oils, and avocado. Take vitamin B12, which you can get in a regular multivitamin.
The foods you’ll be eating are high in fiber and water. You may feel that you are eating a lot, but you’ll probably be consuming fewer calories than you did when you were eating meat and sugary foods. That’s why you won’t need to count calories or restrict portions.
An attendee asked about meat substitutes such as meatless burgers and sausage, noting that they are high in sodium. Trapp agreed these processed vegetarian foods aren’t the best, but said they can be useful as transition foods, especially if you have reluctant family members.
Marie McCarren is a medical writer who has specialized in diabetes for 15 years. Her books include Carb Counting Made Easy, ADA Guide to Insulin & Type 2 Diabetes, and A Field Guide to Type 2 Diabetes.
Low-fat Vegan Diet Good for Glucose Control
A study headed by Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, showed that a low-fat vegan diet can lead to weight loss and lower blood glucose levels. The results were published in the journal Diabetes Care in 2006.
The researchers recruited 99 people with type 2 diabetes for the 22-week study. Most were overweight. The participants were asked not to change their exercise habits during the study.
Half were randomly assigned to and given instruction on a low-fat vegan diet. In this diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes, 10 percent of calories came from fat, 15 percent from protein, and 75 percent from carbohydrate. The participants were asked to avoid animal products and added fats and to choose foods with a low glycemic index, such as beans and green vegetables. They were not told to limit calories, portions, or carbs.
The other participants followed diets that were individualized and that adhered to American Diabetes Association’s guidelines. Participants who were overweight were given calorie limits.
Average A1c in the vegan group was 8% at the start of the study and 7.1% at the end. Average A1c in the ADA-diet group dropped from 7.9% to 7.4%. The vegan group lost an average of 14 pounds, while the ADA-diet group lost about 7 pounds.
In the vegan group, 24 out of 49 people did not change their diabetes medications during the study, and average A1c in this subgroup dropped from 8.07% to 6.84%. In the ADA-diet group, 33 of 50 participants did not change their diabetes medications, and their average A1c dropped from 7.88% to 7.50%.
In the vegan group, 39 people did not change their cholesterol meds. Their average total cholesterol dropped from 190 mg/dl to 157 mg/dl. In the 41 people in the ADA-diet group who did not change their cholesterol meds, average total cholesterol dropped from 195 mg/dl to 176 mg/dl.