Is Plant-Based Eating The Way To Go?
Diabetic Living Australia|January-February 2021
Dr Kate Marsh, dietitian, looks at the facts
Dr Kate Marsh

The number of Australians adopting a vegetarian diet is on the increase. In fact, research conducted by Roy Morgan shows a slow but steady increase in the number of Australian adults who report following a vegetarian diet from 1.7 million (9.7 per cent of the population) in 2012 to 2.2million people (11.2 per cent) in 2014 to nearly 2.5 million (12.1 per cent) in 2018. And this was before the more recent rise in interest in plant-based diets.

At the same time, an increasing number of people are ditching key plant foods such as wholegrains, legumes, fruit and starchy vegetables, in favour of low-carb high fat and/or protein diets such as Paleo, keto, and the more extreme Carnivore diet that consists entirely of animal-sourced foods. And Australians are big consumers of animal protein – according to the FAO, the average Aussie consumed around 46kg of meat and 43kg of poultry in 2019.

So, which is the right choice if you have diabetes? Should you be going meat-free? Or eating more animal protein in place of carb-rich plant foods?

Vegetarians and vegans are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

A 2017 review of 14 observational studies looking at the association between vegetarian diets and diabetes found that the odds of developing diabetes was 27 per cent lower in those following a vegetarian diet compared to non-vegetarians.

In one of the largest studies, those following a vegan diet had almost half the risk of having type 2 diabetes compared to nonvegetarians, even after adjusting for weight and other lifestyle factors that might affect diabetes risk. What’s more, the reduction in risk became smaller as more animal products were consumed. Lacto-ovo vegetarians had a 46 per cent lower risk, pesco-vegetarians had a 30 per cent lower risk and semi-vegetarians had a 24 per cent lower risk than meat-eaters.

The researchers also took a subset of participants in the study who didn’t have diabetes at the start of the study and followed them for two years. Those eating a vegan diet were 63 per cent less likely to develop diabetes over this time and lacto-ovo vegetarians were 38 per cent less likely to develop diabetes.

High intakes of red and processed meats increase type 2 diabetes risk.

At least 25 studies have been published looking at the relationship between meat intake and risk of type 2 diabetes, and the majority have shown a positive association, meaning that the more meat you eat, the higher your risk of diabetes. The highest risk is with processed meats, likely due to the chemicals used in processing, but unprocessed red meat also appears to be a problem.

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