Paula Wolfson, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Few diseases are as linked to diet as Type 2 diabetes, which is reaching epidemic proportions in America.
Diabetics have long been told to watch their intake of sugar and fat, and follow a balanced food plan.
But what about going vegetarian -- or even vegan?
The American Diabetes Association says a vegetarian diet is a healthy option for those who choose to go that route. And it says diabetics can even go vegan, as long as they take vitamin supplements.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says its research shows a vegan diet may actually be the best choice.
Several years ago, the committee launched a study following two groups of diabetics. One group followed the American Diabetes Association diet, the other adopted a low-fat vegan regime.
Working with researchers at several universities, including George Washington University, they found the vegans got far better results.
"These people reversed a lot of their symptoms, got off a lot of their medications," says Susan Levin, a dietitian with the Physicians Committee.
She says a plant-based diet provides plenty of nutrients along with natural fiber.
"This is what keeps your blood sugars low. This is what helps keep you fuller ... so you can lose weight without feeling hungry," Levin says.
During a personalized tour of a local supermarket, Levin starts with the produce aisle.
"I almost recommend staying exclusively in produce," she says, "But then you can find in the other aisles things like dried beans and dried grains, or even canned beans and frozen beans."
She says to think in terms of a nutrition "rainbow" -- balancing deep green, red, orange, purple and yellow produce as the basis of a diabetic eating plan.
But some doctors are concerned a vegan diet, which means no animal products at all, including dairy, will not provide sufficient protein.
Levin says there is enough in a plant-based diet.
"Even broccoli, that bright green vegetable that is so full of calcium, one-third of its calories are from protein," she says.
She does acknowledge that many in the medical community remain skeptical. Even the prestigious Mayo Clinic gives a mixed review to the idea of a vegan diet for diabetics.
The Mayo Clinic says vegetarian diets as a whole can help diabetics lose weight and improve blood sugar control. But it says any patient planning to go vegetarian, especially vegan, should work with a nutritionist to put together a solid eating plan that provides enough nutrients and enough calories to maintain a healthy weight.
Below is the Nutrition Rainbow Food for Life poster:
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