Who Says It’s Hard to Stick to a Diet? A Vegan Diet Might Be Easier Than You Think, According to a New Study
Study in Diabetic Patients Shows Cravings for Fatty Foods Recede and Transition to Healthful Diet Surprisingly Quick
WASHINGTON—Adopting a vegan diet is not just healthy; it’s surprisingly easy, according to a new study of people with diabetes who made the switch as part of a research study in February’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The diet helped them lose weight, lower their blood sugar, and reduce their need for medication.
Many doctors are aware that a low-fat vegetarian diet can reverse heart disease and provide other benefits. However, some may mistakenly think that most patients will not make the transition. Now, at least five studies published in scientific journals show that patients can and do adapt to a "strict" vegan diet that dramatically improves their health.
Researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the George Washington University, and the University of Toronto found that the vegan group reported a small but significant reduction in craving for fatty foods at 22 weeks, compared with the group consuming an omnivorous diet. This finding contradicts the notion that individuals adopting vegan diets have continued cravings for excluded foods. In fact, the desire for fatty foods such as meat appeared to diminish.
"A vegan diet is very healthy, but most people imagine that it’s hard to stick to. We found exactly the opposite. It is less constraining than a conventional diabetes diet," says lead author Neal Barnard, M.D., a George Washington University researcher and president of PCRM. "I would encourage anyone with diabetes to talk to their physician about trying a vegan approach."
In the 74-week study, 99 people with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to follow either a low-fat, vegan diet or a diet based on American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommendations. The vegan diet dramatically cut consumption of cholesterol, fat, and saturated fat, and increased fiber intake, compared with the diet based on ADA guidelines. However, the vegan group felt less constrained than those in the ADA group.
Participants rated the taste of the foods, how easy or hard the food was to purchase and prepare, and how satisfied they were with the diet.
At 22 weeks, the food acceptability was similar for both groups, but the vegan group was slightly more satisfied with its diet, compared with the ADA group. The vegan group reported slightly more initial effort in preparing foods. However, those in the ADA group reported more discomfort with restrictions imposed by their diet, compared with the vegan group. Overall, the study showed that both diets have a reasonable level of acceptability, although the vegan diet elicits much more pronounced long-term nutritional changes.
The vegan diet consisted of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. Participants in this group avoided animal products and fatty foods and favored low-glycemic index foods, such as sweet potatoes, beans, and green vegetables. There were no restrictions on calories, carbohydrates, or portion sizes. ADA guidelines provided recommendations on the intake of calories, carbohydrate, and saturated fat 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.