Vegan diets can help overweight people or those with Type 2 diabetes shed pounds and lower blood sugar levels, according to a new study.
Experts presented evidence at the European Congress on Obesity in Maastricht showing that adhering to a vegan diet for at least 12 weeks could boost weight loss and improve blood sugar control.
The data, taken from 11 randomised trials including 796 people, included those who were overweight (with a body mass index – BMI – of at least 25) or who had Type 2 diabetes (including pre-diabetic state).
The studies showed that, in comparison with control diets, vegan diets reduced body weight (on average by about 4.1kg), and also led to a drop in BMI and lower blood sugar levels.
Further analysis showed there were greater reductions in body weight and BMI when vegan diets were compared with people’s normal food intake than if they were compared to other diet plans to lose weight, such as portion control or a Mediterranean diet.
There was little or no effect of vegan diets on blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of fat stored in fat cells).
A vegan diet contains only plants (such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits) and foods made from plants.
Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs.
According to the NHS, people can get most of the nutrients they need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet.
This includes at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, with meals including potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates.
People should also have some dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts, as well as beans, pulses and other proteins.
The new study, from Anne-Ditte Termannsen and colleagues at the Steno Diabetes Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal.
She said: “This rigorous assessment of the best available evidence to date indicates with reasonable certainty that adhering to a vegan diet for at least 12 weeks may result in clinically meaningful weight loss and improve blood sugar levels, and therefore can be used in the management of overweight and Type 2 diabetes.
“Vegan diets likely lead to weight loss because they are associated with a reduced calorie intake due to a lower content of fat and higher content of dietary fibre. However, more evidence is needed regarding other cardiometabolic outcomes.”
Emma Elvin, senior clinical adviser at Diabetes UK, said: “This study adds to the evidence that vegan diets can be helpful for people living with or at risk of Type 2 diabetes.
“It highlights that a whole diet approach can be useful rather than focussing on single nutrients.
“Many of the foods that are common in a vegan diet such as fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses, and wholegrains are good for overall health and could help to manage diabetes.
“However, the best advice for anyone looking to make lifestyle changes is to find a healthy, balanced diet that works best for them and that they can stick to, and to approach any change in a safe and sustainable way.”