Beating Diabetes: Vegan Diet Improves Blood Sugar Control

The Physicians Committee

Beating Diabetes: Vegan Diet Improves Blood Sugar Control

Caroline Trapp is convinced that consuming a vegan diet reduces the incidence of type 2 diabetes and its complications. A recent National Institutes of Health-funded study by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), George Washington University and University of Toronto confirms her conviction. A nurse practitioner, Trapp has been treating patients with the disease for 20 years. She found even though she was writing increasing numbers of prescriptions for oral medications and insulin, diabetics continued to develop kidney and heart problems and required even more medication. Frustrated, she began researching the disease and discovered PCRM's recommendation for a plant-based, high fiber, low-fat diet.

At the same time Dr. Neal D. Barnard was just completing the PCRM study which demonstrated the vegan diet was more effective in controlling blood sugar and cholesterol in type 2 diabetic patients than a diet based on American Diabetes Association guidelines. When the opportunity arose to become part of a PCRM pilot project that spun off from the research Trapp was eager to introduce healthy eating to diabetics seen at the Millennium Medical Group in Southfield. The cooking classes ran seven-weeks and included a field trip to Panchero's Mexican Grill in Southfield. The pilot project took place in Washington, D.C. where PCRM and George Washington University are located.

"We focus first on foods that don't come from animals," said Trapp, director of diabetes care for Premier Internists and Northwest Internal Medicines, Divisions of Millennium Medical Group. "The concern is that something as healthy as chicken or fish has almost as much fat as beef. Low fat diets have not been effective in curing diabetes. The old way of thinking is focusing on sugar and starch. Fat intake interferes with the body's ability to utilize insulin."

At Panchero's class participants were treated to a burrito made with grilled veggies and beans.

"With this diet you can eat as much as you want of beans, peas, lentils. The thinnest people on the planet are the rural Asian people. They eat rice and noodles," said Trapp of Farmington Hills.

"But probably the most important thing we teach is these foods taste good. People come in thinking how can I live without eating meat. People find over time if they get dairy products out of the diet, joint problems may clear up. If they get fat out of their diet, they find stomach problems go away."

Barnard isn't saying the American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet doesn't work. He wants people to be aware "there's a healthy alternative that doesn't require weighing and measuring portions." Barnard's research findings were published in August 2006 in Diabetes Care, an ADA journal. The study randomly assigned individuals with type 2 diabetes to a low-fat vegan diet or a diet following ADA guidelines. After 12-weeks 43-percent of the vegan group and 26-percent of the ADA group reduced their diabetes medications.

"The low-fat vegan diet was very effective at controlling blood sugar and with good side effects

--weight loss, better digestion. And it's surprisingly easy. We actually asked people how they felt about it. Following a vegan diet was easier than people thought it would be. You don't have to count calories, carbohydrates, don't have to eliminate anything. Some things you're never going to eat at all--meats, eggs, cheese. If you go to Taco Bell, you can't eat meat but can have as many bean burritos as you want," said Barnard, author of Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings--and Seven Steps to End Them. Barnard, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University, releases his latest book in January from Rodale Press--Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes.

Ira Goldberg is proof the vegan diet works. Since taking the cooking classes he says he feels better, has lost 45-pounds and his blood sugar is finally under control.

"What was good is that spouses can come (to the classes). If you have a support network it makes it easier," said Goldberg, a 41-year old West Bloomfield resident who teaches at Berkley High School.

"It's something you can implement in your daily life without much effort. For years I never even considered it because of the perception there wouldn't be things to satisfy me. There's an entire universe of options."

Goldberg starts his day with a peanut butter sandwich. Lunch can be a bean burrito or a Middle Eastern mujadra made from cracked wheat, lentils and caramelized onion. For dinner out he usually chooses a veggie stir fry. At home he'll cook up a pot of whole grain pasta with a marinara sauce, mushrooms and chick peas.

"There was so much information in the classes," said Goldberg. "I hope they're (Trapp and Barnard) on the cutting edge of a dietary revolution."