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A Vegan Diet Can Prevent – or Reverse – Diabetes
Published in Bikya Masr on 23 - 08 - 2010

It is estimated that 11 percent of Egyptians suffer from diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a disease that commonly afflicts overweight and sedentary people. People with Type 2 diabetes have high blood sugar levels that can affect circulation in their legs and can eventually cause blindness, nerve damage and heart, eye and kidney problems. Although Type 2 diabetes was once known as “adult-onset” diabetes, recent studies show that one in four obese children has warning signs of the disease.
Middle Eastern countries once had low rates of diabetes compared to Western countries, but diabetes rates skyrocketed when Middle-Eastern people began eating a lot more meat and dairy products in place of traditional plant-based dishes.
High levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and haem iron – a form of iron found only in animal-derived products – put people at risk of developing diabetes (or of worsening the disease if they already have it). One study, led by Dr. Teresa T Fung – a researcher with Simmons College and the Harvard School of Public Health in the US – concluded that the more red and processed meats people eat, the higher their risk of diabetes. Each additional daily serving of red meat increases a person's risk of diabetes by 26 per cent, and adding another serving of processed meat increases his or her risk by nearly 40 per cent.
Fortunately, a healthy plant-based diet can help prevent – and even reverse – Type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related diseases. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a non-profit health organization based in Washington, DC, “Vegetarian diets provide a nutrient combination that is likely to be beneficial in treating diabetes and preventing complications. … Not only does the diet help control blood sugar, but, because whole grains, nuts, viscous fibers, soy proteins, and plant sterols lower serum cholesterol concentrations, the diet also helps prevent cardiovascular complications. Substituting soy or other vegetable proteins for animal protein may also reduce the risk of diabetes-related kidney problems”.
A 2006 study led by PCRM President Dr. Neal Barnard revealed that people with Type 2 diabetes can significantly control the disease – and lose weight – by switching to a vegan (pure vegetarian) diet. Dr Barnard divided volunteers with Type 2 diabetes into two groups: one was placed on the standard diet prescribed by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) – which allows low-fat meat, fish and dairy products – and the other followed a low-fat vegan diet. Neither group was given an exercise plan.
After the 22-week-long study, the people who had followed the vegan diet showed distinct advantages. Forty-three per cent of those who had adhered to a low-fat vegan diet reduced their need to take medications to manage their disease, compared to only 26 per cent of those who had followed the diet recommended by the ADA. The vegan group lost an average of about 13 pounds, while the average weight loss of those in the ADA group was only about 9 pounds.
Dr. Barnard explained that among the study participants whose medications remained constant, the vegan group had a threefold greater improvement in blood sugar control. They lost more weight and saw much greater drops in their cholesterol levels. The vegan diet was easier too. Instead of having to count calories, portions and carbohydrate grams, the members of the vegan group simply changed the type of food they ate.
In his book Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes, Dr. Barnard encourages diabetics to eat tasty, low-fat, plant-based foods. He recommends avoiding added vegetable oils and other high-fat foods as well as foods that are high on the glycaemic index (eg, sugar, white potatoes, most wheat-flour products and most cold cereals). Diabetics can choose unlimited amounts of food from PCRM's New Four Food Groups:
Grains: Khubz, rice, high-fiber cereals, corn, oatmeal and couscous
Legumes: Beans (eg, black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, foul beans, white beans, peas, lentils and low-fat soya products such as tofu)
Fruits: Bananas, apples, mangoes, oranges, melons, grapefruit, papayas, berries and many other types of fruit are all good choices.
Vegetables: All (except white potatoes). Tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, squash, green beans and sweet potatoes are all good choices.
Recipes and more information on diabetes and on Dr Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes can be found at Or visit for more tips on going vegan.
** Jason Baker is the director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia. To get involved with PETA's work in the Middle East, visit

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