Are you overweight or obese? Or let me put it this way- Is your Body Mass Index (BMI) more than 25? If yes, you must know about a dreadful consequence which is generally associated with an increased weight and obesity, i.e., diabetes.
When we hear the word “diabetes”, most of us think that blood glucose is the real culprit. The truth is, glucose serves as a fuel to your body. When you eat food, your blood glucose level rises, and this glucose is then used up by your body cells to produce energy. However, a failure to do so will cause a persistent rise in blood glucose level. This condition is known as diabetes.
So, what keeps a check on this blood glucose level? A vital hormone, called insulin, is released by specific cells of your body, known as beta cells. These cells are present in an organ located just behind your stomach, called pancreas. Insulin drives the glucose inside your body cells and thus, regulates your blood glucose level.
Now you must be thinking, what does weight has to do with diabetes? Overweight and obesity increase the metabolic demands of your body, i.e., your body has to work harder to utilize food and produce energy for you. When this happens for a while, your cells will simply give up and even though your pancreas is releasing adequate insulin, your cells will become resistant to the action of insulin, thus causing a raised persistent blood glucose levels. This is the stage, when you will be labeled as having “diabetes” or to be specific, type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, i.e., if you are a junkie or is spending too much time in front of laptop with no physical activity at all, you definitely are at a higher risk of developing diabetes. However, our medical science has advanced enough to manage this condition. Several medicines have emerged to help people dealing with diabetes.
If diabetes is manageable, why do people dread it so much? The answer to this question lies in several complications arising due to diabetes, including stroke, cardiovascular conditions, kidney damage and even blindness. To top it all, diabetes is an irreversible condition, i.e., once you develop it, you have to rely on heavy doses of medications and painful injections.
Now, you must be convinced that diabetes should be prevented. Good news is that our researchers promptly agree with you and have been conducting various trials in this context.
One such study was conducted by researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), along with several other researchers from institutions in the Czech Republic, the US and Italy. The study involved a total of 75 participants, including men and women of 25 to 75 years of age, with a BMI lying between 28 to 40. The aim of the study was to assess the effectiveness of a vegan diet in preventing diabetes in overweight people. The low-fat vegan diet typically consists of grains, vegetables, legumes, carbohydrates, and fruits.
Several guidelines of the study are described below:
- 38 people were included in the “intervention group” (group who were put on a strictly low-fat vegan diet) and 37 people were included in the “control group” (group of people with no dietary modification)
- Participants were asked to prepare the meals themselves
- Alcohol drinks were limited to 2 a day for male participants and 1 a day for female participants
- Exercise habit was recorded through questionnaire before commencement of the trial and participants were asked not to change their exercise habits
- Unscheduled calls were made by the dietitians to assess how well the participants adhere to the meal plan
After 16 weeks, the results of the study were evaluated in the intervention group and the control group. The intervention group showed a marked increase in the function of beta cells, indicated by an increase in insulin levels after intake of meals. The intervention group also showed a greater reduction in BMI (average drop from 33.1 to 31.2) as compared to a negligible change in control group (average drop from 33.6 to 33.4). An alarming observation of the study was a reduction in visceral fat volume in the intervention group (average drop from 1,289 cm3 to 1,090 cm3) while an increased fat volume in the control group (average increase from 1,434 cm3 to 1,459 cm3) was seen. The fat reduction in turn led to decrease in insulin resistance in the intervention group. Thus, the researchers concluded that “a low-fat vegan diet may prevent diabetes in overweight people”.
Now the question arises, should we blindly follow the postulates of the study? There are reasons to believe in the study. For starters, the results were dramatically positive. Secondly, it was a randomized controlled trial, i.e., the participants were randomly assigned in the intervention and control group. A major advantage of this randomization is that it eliminates any sort of bias which may arise from the researcher’s end.
While this study may have instilled a positivity in many, you need to put a hold on your optimism as there are too many limitations associated with this study. Since, the participants were asked to prepare their own meals, the meal changes were not recorded. Also, the dietitians relied on the telephonic conversation with the participants, thus ignoring some minute details which either the participants may have missed out or may have lied about. Another major limitation of the study was its sample size. With such small sample size of 75 participants, of which 4% did not even complete the study, it is hard to reach on any conclusion. Another drawback of this study lies in the fact that the sample chosen for the study were already health-conscious, thus the findings of the study cannot be considered completely reliable.
To extrapolate, it is apt to say that a vegan diet may be associated with the prevention of diabetes in overweight individuals. However, the significance of a non-vegan, low-fat diet in weight loss and prevention of diabetes cannot be entirely ignored. Hence, a vegan diet does not define a healthy diet, neither does a non-vegan diet. A healthy diet refers to a balanced diet, which together with regular exercise can keep you healthy, fit, and disease-free.