Published on 6 November 2018

Researchers find better mental health, lower weight and reduction in complications of type 2 diabetes among benefits of a plant-based diet.

Health benefits of eating a vegan diet that include improved mental health, lower weight and better self-management of type 2 diabetes have been found by researchers.

Researchers from the University of London, the University of Northampton and East Sussex NHS Healthcare Trust looked at the effects of a plant-based diet on adults with type 2 diabetes.

People on a vegan diet do not eat dairy products, eggs or any other animal product.

Their results found that HbA1c (blood sugar levels) was better in groups of people on a vegan diet than in control groups.

In addition people in the plant-based groups lost more weight than people in the control groups (on average 5.23kg compared to 2.83kg).

Adults with type 2 diabetes taking part in the study also reported improvements in their mental health, with decreased depression levels and the other decreased pain symptoms.

The results of the study were recently published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.

Researchers said: “It can be concluded that plant-based diets accompanied by educational interventions can significantly improve psychological health, quality of life, HbA1c levels and weight and therefore the management of diabetes.”

A plate of healthy salad.

An NHS Behind the Headlines analysis of the study said: “Eating a healthy diet can help people with type 2 diabetes to manage their condition and avoid complications. This review of the evidence around plant-based diets supports this conclusion. However, it has too many limitations to tell us for sure that a vegan diet, specifically, is the best diet for people with diabetes.

“We don't know enough about the interventions or control groups in the individual studies included in the review, so we can't see from this review exactly what was being compared with what.

“For example, if the plant-based diets were lower in calories than the control group diets, it's not surprising people lost more weight on the plant-based diet.

“The review says that people in the intervention groups were given regular dietary advice and support by highly qualified healthcare professionals. We don't know if that's the case for people in the control groups.

“There was a mix of evidence on psychological health from only three small studies so we can't be sure that the diets had an effect. But again if they did, it's perhaps not that surprising people in the intervention groups may have felt happier if they lost more weight and were given more support to do so.

“Overall, the small total numbers of people in these studies – which likely had highly variable methods, interventions, control diets and outcome assessment – suggests that too little research has been done into plant-based diets to draw firm conclusions about their effects.

“A healthy diet includes lots of fresh vegetables, pulses, fruits and wholegrains. A plant-based diet needs to include plenty of these types of food, rather than relying on refined plant-based carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour, to be truly healthy.”

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