New Study Shows Vegan Diet Reduces Heart Disease Risk in People with Type 2 Diabetes
Vegan Diet Scores Dramatically Higher in Alternate Healthy Eating Index than Diet Based on ADA Guidelines
WASHINGTON—A new report in October’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association shows that a low-fat vegan diet has a nutrient profile and diet quality associated with a greater reduction in heart disease risk in people with type 2 diabetes than a diet based on the American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines.
“Two out of three people with diabetes die of heart disease or stroke, so it is hugely significant to find that a low-fat vegan diet can treat diabetes and dramatically reduce heart disease risk,” says lead author Gabrielle M. Turner-McGrievy, M.S., R.D., a doctoral candidate in nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a nutrition scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “These findings should encourage anyone with diabetes to talk to their physician about adopting a vegan diet to manage their disease and reduce the risk of a heart attack.”
In the 22-week study, 99 people with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to follow either a low-fat, low-glycemic vegan diet or a diet based on ADA recommendations. In the study—which Turner-McGrievy co-authored with several others including Neal D. Barnard, M.D., and Joshua Cohen, M.D.— the vegan diet dramatically cut consumption of cholesterol, fat, and saturated fat, and increased healthful fiber, beta-carotene, and vitamins K and C intake, compared with the diet based on ADA guidelines. Almost half of the participants in the vegan group reduced, if not eliminated, their medication, compared with only 26 percent of participants in the ADA group.
The study also measured the nutrient profile, diet quality, and chronic disease risk of the two diets by using the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI) score. AHEI is a system based on a nine-component dietary index used to rate foods and macronutrients related to chronic disease. Food categories included vegetables, fruits, nuts and soy protein, ratio of white to red meat, cereal fiber, trans fat, and ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acids.
The study found that the vegan group had great improvement in every AHEI category, including significant increases in intakes of vegetable, fruit, nut and soy protein, and cereal fiber, and a decrease in trans fat intake. The ADA group saw no improvement in AHEI score. While participants in both groups improved, the vegan group experienced significantly greater reductions in A1c (a measure of blood sugar levels over a prolonged period), weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, excluding participants who changed or reduced their medication.
The vegan diet consisted of grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Participants in this group avoided animal products and fatty foods and favored low-glycemic-index foods, such as sweet potatoes and rye and pumpernickel bread. There were no restrictions on calories or portion sizes. ADA guidelines provided recommendations on the intake of calories, carbohydrate, and saturated fat grams based on each participant’s body weight, lipid profile, and current food and eating habits.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.