Low-fat vegan diet found to lower insulin needs in Type 1 diabetics, lower risk of heart disease


New Delhi: A low-fat vegan diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and beans can help reduce insulin needs in people affected by Type 1 diabetes, a new research has found.

It also found that changes in body weight, brought about by the plant-based diet, helped lower participants’ resistance to insulin by improving sensitivity. Glycemic control, or glucose levels in the blood serum, was also observed to get better. The improvements were, in turn, found to correspond to lowering the risk of heart disease in these patients.

While Type 2 diabetes is more common, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the healthy pancreas, affecting its ability to produce insulin and regulate blood sugar. The patients, therefore, may require regular insulin injections.

“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,” said Hana Kahleova, the study’s lead author and director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, US.

The study findings have been published in the Clinical Diabetes journal.

For the study, the researchers randomly assigned 58 adults with Type 1 diabetes to either a low-fat vegan group with no limits on calories or carbohydrates or a portion-controlled group reducing daily calorie intake for overweight participants and keeping carbohydrate intake stable over time.

During the study period of 12 weeks, the participants on the low-fat vegan diet were found to require 28 per cent lesser insulin, with their body’s response or sensitivity to insulin improving by 127 per cent.

The researchers observed these effects to be associated with body weight, which fell by about five kilogrammes on an average. The body weight of individuals in the portion-controlled group, on the other hand, changed non-significantly.

They also associated the improved insulin sensitivity with increased carbohydrate and fibre intake.

The results support previous research that links a lower fat and protein intake with reduced insulin requirements and improved sensitivity in people with Type 1 diabetes, the researchers said.

The team further linked these improvements to lowering cardiovascular risks of disease and death, known to be higher in Type 1 diabetic patients.

They found the participants’ reduced reliance on external insulin to correspond to a nine per cent lowered cardiovascular risk.

The lowered glucose levels in the blood serum corresponded to a 12 per cent and about 9-12 per cent reduced risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease, respectively, they said.

The team also found that total cholesterol in the low-fat vegan group came down by 32.3 milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL), compared to 10.9 mg/dL in the portion-controlled group.

LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, fell by 18.6 mg/dL in the vegan group, and corresponds to an almost 20 per cent reduced risk for a major cardiac event, including heart attack and stroke, the team said.

The levels did not change significantly in the portion-controlled group, they found.

The study authors, however, acknowledged that larger trials are needed to confirm these findings.

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