Category Archives: Vegetarian Diet

How About a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet?

Carb-rich whole-grain bread

New Zealand researchers found significant long-term weight loss and improved cholesterol levels over six and 12 months with a low-fat vegetarian diet. Surprisingly, this was accomplished without restriction on calories and without an exercise component. Weight loss measured at six months was 27 lb (12.1 kg) and they only gained a little back over the subsequent six months.

The authors think the successful weight loss was from “… the reduction in the energy density of the food consumed (lower fat, higher water and fibre). Multiple intervention participants stated ‘not being hungry’ was important in enabling adherence.”

I scanned the research report pretty quickly and don’t see that they referred to the diet as vegetarian. Here’s their test diet description:

We chose a low-fat iteration of the plant-based diet [7–15% if calories as fat] as this has been shown with previous research to achieve optimal outcomes, especially for heart disease and weight loss. This dietary approach included whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Participants were advised to eat until satiation. We placed no restriction on total energy intake. Participants were asked to not count calories. We provided a ‘traffic-light’ diet chart to participants outlining which foods to consume, limit or avoid. We encouraged starches such as potatoes, sweet potato, bread, cereals and pasta to satisfy the appetite. Participants were asked to avoid refined oils (e.g. olive or coconut oil) and animal products (meat, fish, eggs and dairy products). We discouraged high-fat plant foods such as nuts and avocados, and highly processed foods. We encouraged participants to minimise sugar, salt and caffeinated beverages.

Perfect diet compliance would make this a vegan diet. I didn’t catch it in the text of the article, but I’m guessing protein calories were 10–15% of the total, and carbohydrates were around 75%.

The researchers called their investigation the BROAD study. All study subjects were overweight or obese adults. A control group ate their regular foods. The intervention group eating the whole food plant-based diet numbered 33, including 7 with type 2 diabetes. All studies like this have people that drop out. I.e., they quit or otherwise get lost to follow-up. Of the intervention group, 75% lasted for six months, 70% stuck with it for the entire 12 months.

 

There weren’t enough diabetics in the study to make statistically significant conclusions, but the authors write, “Hemoglobin A1c reductions favoured the intervention and all intervention patients with a diabetes diagnosis improved while adherent, and two resolved their condition by HbA1c.”

I’d love to see these researchers repeat this study with 50–100 overweight or obese folks with T2 diabetes. Clearly, it’s a radically different diet than what I recommend for my patients with diabetes.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: For science nerds, here’s the study abstract:

Background/Objective: There is little randomised evidence using a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet as intervention for elevated body mass index (BMI) or dyslipidaemia. We investigated the effectiveness of a community-based dietary programme. Primary end points: BMI and cholesterol at 6 months (subsequently extended).

Subjects: Ages 35–70, from one general practice in Gisborne, New Zealand. Diagnosed with obesity or overweight and at least one of type 2 diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, hypertension or hypercholesterolaemia. Of 65 subjects randomised (control n=32, intervention n=33), 49 (75.4%) completed the study to 6 months. Twenty-three (70%) intervention participants were followed up at 12 months.

Methods: All participants received normal care. Intervention participants attended facilitated meetings twice-weekly for 12 weeks, and followed a non-energy-restricted WFPB diet with vitamin B12 supplementation.

Results: At 6 months, mean BMI reduction was greater with the WFPB diet compared with normal care (4.4 vs 0.4, difference: 3.9 kg m−2 (95% confidence interval (CI)±1), P<0.0001). Mean cholesterol reduction was greater with the WFPB diet, but the difference was not significant compared with normal care (0.71 vs 0.26, difference: 0.45 mmol l−1 (95% CI±0.54), P=0.1), unless dropouts were excluded (difference: 0.56 mmol l−1 (95% CI±0.54), P=0.05). Twelve-month mean reductions for the WFPB diet group were 4.2 (±0.8) kg m−2 BMI points and 0.55 (±0.54, P=0.05) mmol l−1 total cholesterol. No serious harms were reported.

Conclusions: This programme led to significant improvements in BMI, cholesterol and other risk factors. To the best of our knowledge, this research has achieved greater weight loss at 6 and 12 months than any other trial that does not limit energy intake or mandate regular exercise.

Source: Nutrition & Diabetes – The BROAD study: A randomised controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischaemic heart disease or diabetes

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What About a Low-Carb Vegetarian Diet for Diabetes?

Spaghetti squash with parsley, olive oil, snow peas, garlic, salt, pepper

Spaghetti squash with parsley, olive oil, snow peas, garlic, salt, pepper

It works for David Mendosa, who’s been doing it for three years. He shares some ideas on how to do it at the link below. From the intro:

About nine years ago, I started to eat only food low in carbohydrates that don’t have a high glycemic index.  I knew that this was the only proven way to bring my blood glucose level down where I wanted it to be without using drugs or supplements. My most recent A1C test showed that my level is 5.1 percent, well within the range considered normal.

While continuing to eat this way, about three years ago I added the further restriction of eating no meat, fish, or seafood. This was a substantial shift in what I was eating, and I made it mainly because I don’t want to be intentionally responsible for the death of animals or other sentient beings. Only later did I begin to realize its health benefits.

Source: How to Manage Your Diabetes with a Low-Carb Vegetarian Diet – Diabetes

David seems to adhere to the lacto-ovo strain of vegetarianism, rather than vegan or pesco-vegetarian. In other words, he’ll eat eggs and milk products but not fish. I suspect he eats under 40 grams/day of digestible carbohydrate.

Here are more of David’s ideas on implementation of a very low-carb vegetarian diet.

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Is the Vegetarian Diet Good for Diabetes?

low-carb diet, spaghetti squash, paleobetic diet, diabetic diet

These can be part of a low-carb vegetarian diet

The answer to the headline question is: Maybe.

I was surprised to learn that well-known diabetes writer David Mendosa (Type 2 DM) has switched from a very low-carb diet to a low-carb vegetarian diet, eating no more than 50 grams/day of carbohydrate. Why?

For me the issue is that I don’t want to be responsible for harming sentient beings as much as I can avoid it while still following a healthy diet.

I respect that sentiment.

I’m sure David is monitoring the effects of the diet on his blood sugars and weight. Probably his blood lipids, too.

It sounds like all David had to do was drop fish from his prior diet. He still eats eggs (whites only?), cheese, and full-fat yogurt, so I’d call him a lacto-ovo-vegetarian.

If you’re already convinced that you know the perfect diet for people with diabetes, read no further.

What Is a Vegetarian Diet?

From UpToDate.com:

Vegetarian diets vary considerably depending on the degree of dietary restrictions. According to the strictest definition, a vegetarian diet consists primarily of cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts; animal foods, including milk, dairy products, and eggs generally are excluded. Several less restrictive vegetarian diets may include eggs and dairy products. Some vegetarian diets may be grouped as follows:

●Macrobiotic — Vegetables, fruits, legumes, and seaweeds are included in the diet, while whole grains, especially brown rice, are also emphasized. Locally-grown fruits are recommended. Animal foods limited to white meat or white-meat fish may be included in the diet once or twice a week.
●Semi-vegetarian — Meat occasionally is included in the diet. Some people who follow such a diet may not eat red meat but may eat fish and perhaps chicken.
●Lacto-ovovegetarian — Eggs, milk, and milk products (lacto = dairy; ovo = eggs) are included, but no meat is consumed.
●Lactovegetarian — Milk and milk products are included in the diet, but no eggs or meat are consumed.
●Vegan — All animal products, including eggs, milk, and milk products, are excluded from the diet. Some vegans do not use honey and may refrain from using animal products such as leather or wool. They also may avoid foods that are processed or not organically grown.

A 2012 poll estimated that 7% of U.S. adults eat at least one meal a week that does not include meat, fish or poultry, 4% do not eat meat, fish, or poultry, and 1–2% do not eat meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, or eggs. Roughly 5% of individuals in the UK, Germany, and Australia describe themselves as vegetarian.

Switching to the paleo diet often leads to increased vegetable and fruit consumption

Are Vegetarian Diets Safe?

Vegetarians need to be careful to get enough high-quality protein, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and perhaps calcium. B12 comes only from animal products, as far as I know. You can make vitamin D by exposing your skin to sufficient sunlight. Some vegetarians will need to consult a dietitian to ensure adequate nutrition. (BTW, all my comments about vegetarian diets apply to adults only—I don’t treat children, so I’m not up-to-date on their nutritional needs.)

I’ve written about vegetarian diets for diabetes before: here and here. Dr. Michael Greger couldn’t convince Dr. Harriet Hall (or me) that we should avoid eating all animal products.

The Grashow Question

Someone claiming to be Charles Grashow left a comment on one of my blogs:

As I’ve posted before, this [vegetarian macrobiotic diet] took Insulin Dependent T2D [patients] OFF MEDS within 21 days!

Seems much better – but then again this diet is vegan not paleo!

http://www.hoajonline.com/internalmedicine/2052-6954/2/3
Ma-Pi 2 macrobiotic diet intervention during 21 days in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus, Ghana 2011

http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/11/1/39
The effect of the macrobiotic Ma-Pi 2 diet vs. the recommended diet in the management of type 2 diabetes: the randomized controlled MADIAB trial

http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jnme/2012/856342/
Medium- and Short-Term Interventions with Ma-Pi 2 Macrobiotic Diet in Type 2 Diabetic Adults of Bauta, Havana

SO – my question is this. Why do you not recommend this type of diet instead? Or does it not fit into your paradigm?

I responded:

Charles, that macrobiotic Ma-Pi 2 diet looks like it has significant potential. I quickly scanned your first link only. For those not familiar with the diet, here’s a description from your first link:

“Vegetarian Ma-Pi 2 macrobiotic diet, designed especially by Mario Pianesi for treating diabetic patients. Total volume of the Ma-Pi 2 diet consisted of 40–50% whole grains (rice, millet and barley), 35–40% vegetables (carrots, savoy cabbage, cabbage, chicory, onions, red radish, parsley), and 8% legumes (adzuki beans, chickpeas, lentils, black beans). As a complement we used gomasio (roasted ground sesame seeds with unrefined sea salt), fermented products (miso, tamari, umeboshi) and seaweeds (kombu, wakame, nori). Bancha tea (theine-free green tea) was the main liquid diet.”

“The assayed Ma-Pi 2 diet is lower in energy than the traditional one recommended for diabetic patients, but safe, with adequate satiating effect due to the high fiber content, adequate in protein (12% of the total energy), with an acceptable amino acid score, low in fat (15% of the total energy), and high in complex carbohydrates (73%). The diet has a high antioxidant capacity and a high content of bioactive compounds with recognized functional properties (Table 2). Foods were elaborated by culinary macrobiotic specialists from UPM, Italy, and offered at the hospital during breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Unfortunately, the variety of vegetables was restricted because of limited availability.”

I wonder if that would be deficient in vitamin B12.

It looks like it would be worth a try for a type 2 diabetic under medical supervision (some risk of hypoglycemia). I’d like to try a few meals with those ingredients, some of which I’ve never heard of, prepared by someone who knows what they’re doing. Unless I missed it in the link, it might be hard for the average person to replicate that study diet. If I understood correctly, the study participants stayed in a hospital for three weeks and meals were prepared for them.

I don’t have time to hit the other links right now.

-Steve

My Current Stance on Vegetarian Diets For Diabetes

I say “current stance” because I’ll change my mind based on scientific evidence as it becomes available.

I’m not convinced that any of the vegetarian diets is clearly superior to the other available “diabetic diets” in terms of quality of life, longevity, and avoidance of diabetes complications.

We have some evidence that some vegetarian diets may help control diabetic blood sugars and help reduce the need for diabetes medications, at least short-term.

If my diabetic patients want to try a vegetarian diet, I have no objections as long as these criteria are met:

  • it’s a well-designed diet that provides adequate nutrition (which may require a dietitian consultation)
  • blood sugars, hemoglobin A1c, body weight, and blood lipids are monitored periodically
  • the patient is able and willing to self-monitor blood sugars fairly frequently
  • physician oversight, especially for those taking diabetes drugs

Vegetarian diets can be very high in carbohydrate content, which potentially could wreck blood sugar control. If that happens, consider a vegetarian diet with fewer starches and sugars.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: Did  you catch that the Ma-Pi 2 diet is “lower in energy than the traditional one recommended for diabetic patients…”? That means a reduced-calorie diet. Drop calories enough on most any diet, and you’ll likely see lower serum glucose levels, reduced triglycerides (and perhaps other lipid improvements), and loss of excess weight.

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Diabetic Diet Wars: Vegan Versus Low-Fat

 

paleo diet, Steve Parker MD, how to cook asparagus and Brussels sprouts

These might be allowed on the vegan Ma-Pi 2 diet

A vegan diet was superior to a low-fat diet over the course of three weeks, in terms of blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. The vegans were also able to use fewer drugs.

A specific vegan diet (Ma-Pi 2) was compared to a low-fat diet in a study published by Nutrition & MetabolismCarbsane Evelyn dove into the study at her blog (recommended reading), or you can read the original research report yourself. Study subjects had fairly well-controlled type 2 diabetes and were elderly (66) and overweight (84 kg or 185 lb). The vegan diet was mostly whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and green tea.  The low-fat and vegan diets both probably supplied 200–300 calories/day fewer than what the subjects were used to: 1900 cals for men, 1700 for women. The study had 25 patients in each group and lasted only three weeks.

The vegan group ate 335 grams/day of carbohydrate compared to 235 grams in the low-fat group. In contrast, the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet provides 30–100 grams/day of digestible carb and the Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet allows a max of 20–30 grams.

The vegans in the study at hand ate 15–20 more grams/day of fiber. High fiber intake is linked to better blood sugar control.

From the study abstract:

After correcting for age, gender, BMI at baseline, and physical activity, there was a significantly greater reduction in the primary outcomes fasting blood glucose and after-meal glucose in those patients receiving the Ma-Pi 2 diet compared with those receiving the control diet [low-fat]. Statistically significantly greater reductions in the secondary outcomes, HbA1c, insulin resistance, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and LDL/HDL ratio, BMI, body weight, waist and hip circumference were also found in the Ma-Pi 2 diet group compared with the control diet group. The latter group had a significantly greater reduction of triglycerides compared with the Ma-Pi 2 diet group.

The take-home point for me is that overweight T2 diabetics can improve short-term diabetes numbers despite a high carbohydrate consumption if they restrict calories and eat the “right” carbs. Restrict calories enough—600/day?—and T2 diabetes might be curable

I’ve written before about vegetarian/vegan diets for diabetes. My patients are more resistant to vegan diets than they are to low-carb.

Paleobetic diet, low-carb breakfast

Not allowed not on the Ma-Pi 2 diet. Bacon, eggs, black coffee, and Cholula hot sauce.

I scanned the original report and don’t see any problems with Evelyn’s summary.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Book Review: The Low Carb Dietitian’s Guide to Health and Beauty

247 pages

247 pages

I just finished reading The Low Carb Dietitian’s Guide to Health and Beauty, written by Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, and published in January 2015. CDE, but the way, means Certified Diabetes Educator. Per Amazon’s rating system, I give it five stars (I love it). It’s not written specifically for women with diabetes, but the included recipes are quite consistent with a healthy diabetic diet. Since the author provides the carbohydrate grams with her recipes, you can use them with my Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet and Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet.

*   *   *

This valuable addition to the low-carb literature is unique: No other book covers the beauty and health aspects of low-carb eating specifically in women.

I’m a strong proponent of carbohydrate-restricted eating for weight management and cure or control of certain medical conditions. The great advantages of low-carbing for weight loss are 1) suppression of hunger, and 2) proven greater efficacy compared to other types of dieting. Nevertheless, I wasn’t aware that this way of eating also had potential benefits in terms of beauty maintenance or improvement. The author persuasively makes that case in this ground-breaking book.

Just because she has RD (registered dietitian) behind her name doesn’t mean you just have to take her word for it. Franziska gives us references to the scientific literature if you want to check it out yourself.

The author focuses on health and beauty; the weight loss happens naturally with low-carb eating. That’s a helpful “side effect” since 2/3 of women in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

She covers all the basics of low-carb eating, including the rationale, potential side effects and how to prevent or deal with them, the science of “good fats,” the importance of plant-derived foods and fiber, info on artificial sweeteners, and management of weight-loss stalls.

Then Franziska does something else unique and very helpful. She offers three different eating plans along with a simple test to help determine which is the best for you. The options are 1) low-carbohydrate diet, 2) high-fiber, moderate saturated fat, low-carb diet, and 3) intermittent fasting low-carb diet with weekly treat meal. You can dig right in with a week’s worth of easy meals made from readily available ingredients.

It was interesting for me to learn that the author ate vegan-style and then pescetarian for awhile. In 2011 she was eating the usual doctor-recommended “healthy” low-fat high-fiber diet when life insurance blood work indicated she had prediabetes. So she cut her daily dietary carbs from 150 grams to 50 or less, with subsequent return of the labs to normal ranges.

I only had a few quibbles with the book. For instance, there’s no index, but that’s mitigated by a very detailed table of contents. The font size is on the small side for my 60-year-old eyes. If either of those issues bother you, get the ebook version. “Net carbs” are mentioned briefly before they are defined, which might confuse folks new to low-carbing.

A particular feature that appealed to me is the vegetarian meal options. Low-carb eating is often criticized as being meat-centric. Franziska shows it doesn’t have to be.

I also appreciate that she provides the net carb grams and calorie counts for her meal plans and recipes. All diabetics and many prediabetics need to know the carb grams. Calorie counts come in handy when analyzing the cause of a weight loss stall. Yes, calories still count in weight management.

I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the author’s top low-carb beauty foods are avocados, berries, cinnamon, cocoa/dark chocolate, fatty fish, flaxseed, full-fat dairy, green tea, nuts, olives/olive oil, and non-starchy vegetables. I was skeptical at the start of the beauty foods chapter, but Franziska’s scientific references support her recommendations. I’m already eating most of these foods. Now I’m going to try green tea and ground flaxseed (e.g., her flaxseed bread recipe).

The author will also get you going on exercise. I heartily agree with her that exercise is truly a fountain of youth.

Menopausal? The author has your special challenges covered.

If you’re curious about the paleo diet, note that only about a quarter of these recipes are pure paleo. Dairy products disqualify many of them.

Here are a just a few tidbits I picked up, to help me remember them:

  • a blood test called fructosamine reflects blood sugar levels over the previous three weeks
  • you’ll have less wrinkles if you can reduce the advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) in your skin
  • Japanese women on the highest-fat diets have less wrinkling and better skin elasticity
  • soluble fiber from plants helps to reduce appetite, improves blood sugar control, and helps with weight regulation (see her table of high-fiber plants, including soluble and insoluble fiber)
  • seitan is a meat substitute for vegetarians
  • erythritol (an artificial sweetener) may have less gastrointestinal effects (diarrhea, gas, bloating) than many other artificial sweeteners
  • maltitol (another artificial sweetener in the sugar alcohols class) tends to increase blood sugar more than the other sugar alcohols
  • I’m going to try her “sardines mashed with avocados” recipe (Alton Brown popularized sardine-avocado sandwiches, so it’s not as bizarre as it sounds!)

I wouldn’t be surprised if Franziska’s recommendations help men as well as women keep or regain their youthfulness.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Dr. Harriet Hall Slaughters Vegan Sacred Cows

diabetic mediterranean diet

“Listen to Dr. Greger!”

I ran across some nutrition-advice videos of Dr Michael Greger six months ago and started following his twittering.  It didn’t take me long to figure out he favors a vegetarian or vegan diet. Dr. Harriet Hall at Science-Based Medicine has Dr. Greger in her crosshairs, challenging many of his claims.  Well worth a read.  An excerpt:

Vegans tell us the Inuit, who lived almost exclusively on food of animal origin, had a short life span. That’s not true. Statistics on the Inuit between 1822 and 1836 showed that their average life expectancy was about the same as that of European peasants of the time who ate a diet overwhelmingly based on bread. 25% of Inuit lived past 60, and some lived into their 80s and 90s.

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Dr. Sigurdsson’s Thoughts on the Best Diet for Diabetes

"Vegan? Vegetarian? Mediterranean? Low-Carb? ADA? Low GI?  SAD?

“Vegan? Vegetarian? Mediterranean? Low-Carb? ADA? Low GI? SAD?

Remember that recent report on the best diet for diabetes from American Journal of Clinical Nutrition?  I didn’t think so.  Here’s Dr. Axel Sugurdsson’s summary:

Ajala and coworkers conclude that their review provides evidence that modifying the amount of macronutrients can improve glycemic control, weight and lipids in type 2 diabetes. In their analysis, low carbohydrate diets appeared to provide superior weight loss, better control of blood glucose, and better lipid profile, compared with low fat diets. The authors also conclude that vegan and vegetarian diet may improve glucose control and promote weight loss in type 2 diabetes.

Here’s the verbatim conclusion of the researchers from the article abstract:

Low-carbohydrate, low-GI, Mediterranean, and high-protein diets are effective in improving various markers of cardiovascular risk in people with diabetes and should be considered in the overall strategy of diabetes management.

No mention of vegan and vegetarian diets per se.

And now Dr. Sigurdsson’s concluding opinion:

What is the best diet for diabetes?  Although, there is probably not a simple answer,  the question reflects one of the main challenges of modern medicine. It is likely that our dietary recommendations will have to be tailored to the needs of the individual. A one-size-fits-all approach is unrealistic. Although not providing any definitive answers, the study by Ajala and coworkers is an important contribution to our understanding of this highly important issue.

Read the rest.

I’ve reviewed some of the literature supporting vegetarian diets for diabetes.  I’ve seen some evidence that the paleo diet may be beneficial.  Regular readers here know that I currently favor a carbohydrate-restricted Mediterranean-style diet for control of diabetes.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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