The benefits of a plant-based diet for people with diabetes

Dietitian, Meagan Atcheson, explains the advantages of adopting a plant-based diet if you have diabetes.

A plant-based lifestyle is any diet that focuses on eating more foods derived from plant sources. This includes consuming more fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds as well as meat substitutes, such as soya and tofu. This type of diet emphasises minimising the intake of animal products as well as limiting processed foods.   

Types of plant-based diets

There are a variety of diets that may fall under the broad term plant-based:

  1. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Lacto refers to milk and ovo refers to eggs. This typeof vegetarian consumes eggs and dairy products but no other animal products.
  2. Flexitarian:This style of eating encourages mostly plant-basedfoods while allowing meat and other animal products in moderation.
  3. Pescatarian: Pescatarians don’t consume any meat or poultry but occasionally consume fish as part of their diet.
  4. Vegan:A vegan diet excludes:
  • Meat and poultry: Beef, lamb, pork,veal, horse, organ meat, wild meat, chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, etc.
  • Fish and seafood: All types of fish, anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, lobster, etc.
  • Dairy: Milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
  • Eggs: From chickens, quails, ostriches, fish, etc.
  • Bee products: Honey, bee pollen, etc.
  • Animal-based ingredients: Whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatine, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin Dand fish-derived omega-3s.

There are numerous health benefits to following a carefully planned out whole-food plant-based diet which includes a wide variety of plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Benefits of a plant-based diet 

It’s always best to seek advice from a registered dietitian who will provide an individualised meal plan to ensure that the diet is healthy and includes a variety of plant proteins as well as other nutrients to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

  1. Lower BMI

Research shows that individuals who follow a healthy plant-based diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI).

  1. Weight loss

Several studies show that healthy plant-based diets are effective for weight loss. This may be due to a lower calorie intake as plant-based diets tend to be higher in fibre which leads to feelings of fullness and satiety.

  1. Improved glycaemic control in people with Type 2 diabetes

Various studies show that following a low-fat plant-based diet improves glucose control in Type 2 diabetes. Some studies show that individuals on a plant-based diet have a 78% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

  1. Cardiovascular health

Plant-based diets may also improve heart health and reduce the risk for heart disease as they are effective in reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

  1. Other pros

These diets may also be beneficial in reducing symptoms of arthritis, reducing the risk for developing Alzheimer’s and improving kidney function in diabetic patients. However, more research is still needed in these areas.

  1. Soya foods and diabetes

Eating whole soya bean products, like tofu, tempeh, edamame and soya milk, have been show to lower cholesterol, decrease blood glucose levels and improve glucose tolerance in people with diabetes.

  1. Reducing consumptionof red meat

Particularly reducing processed meats (smoked, cured, had salt or chemical preservatives added) has been linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

What does the evidence say?

Studies strongly support the role of plant-based diets in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Evidence demonstrates the benefits of plant-based diets in treating Type 2 diabetes and reducing key diabetes-related complications.

The evidence suggests that the type and source of carbohydrate (unrefined versus refined), fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated versus saturated and trans), and protein (plant versus animal) play a major role in the prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes.

Overall plant-based diets improve insulin resistance and improves overall health in people living with diabetes as it promotes an increases in fibre and phytonutrients and decreases the intake of saturated and trans fats.

If a predominantly plant-based lifestyle sounds daunting start with one day in the week (start by adding brown lentils to a mince dish, chickpeas to a curry or beans to a soup). Whatever you decide to do, please speak to a registered dietitian before embarking on a new diet to assist in meeting your individual needs.


Meagan Atcheson is a registered dietitian who focuses specifically in oncology. She is a plant-centric foodie who promotes a nourishing approach to health and wellness using evidence-based research and guidelines only.

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