In the last 10 years, the number of people with diabetes has more than doubled. It is estimated that, in 2016, the number in the UK was 4.5 million. Of those, 10% have type 1 diabetes which is not preventable. However, 90% have type 2 diabetes which, in most cases, is. According to Diabetes UK the disease is “the fastest growing health threat of our times and an urgent public health issue”.
But here is some good news: a vegan diet can reverse type 2 diabetes. This is not one of those Daily Mail “mouthwash gives you cancer” type claims. There is a growing body of serious, peer reviewed clinical evidence that a plant-based diet not only protects against type 2 diabetes but can reverse it. One key study examined different eating patterns among 61,000 individuals. It found that the incidence of type 2 diabetes was directly linked to the amount of animal products eaten with vegans suffering the lowest levels.
One reason is because vegans are better able to control their weight. Excess body fat is the number one risk factor of type 2 diabetes: around 90% of those who develop the disease are overweight.
Another reason is that the saturated fats found in animal products contribute to insulin resistance – the cause of type 2 diabetes. Monosaturated fats, which are found in foods such as nuts and avocados, may actually protect against the detrimental effects of saturated fats. As a result, people eating plant-based diets appear to have better insulin sensitivity, better blood sugar levels and better levels of insulin.
What is the government doing?
It costs the NHS £8.8 billion to treat type 2 diabetes each year – that’s a lot of money for an NHS in crisis. So why is the government not encouraging people to adopt a plant-based or largely plant-based diet? Possibly because of the inevitable outcry from the meat and dairy industries who, incidentally, spend massive sums promoting their products as wholesome and healthy? Whatever the reason, it seems that the government is not going to help.
What is the medical profession doing?
The truth is that doctors’ training focusses on treatment of symptoms, rather than prevention – they simply don’t have the knowledge to advise us on nutrition. In 2016 a group of prominent physicians wrote to the Medical Schools Council and the General Medical Council warning of the dangers of this and calling for better training of medical students in nutrition and exercise.
If the medical schools step up and introduce better nutrition training then perhaps we’ll see a change. But that’s going to take time to filter through so we can’t expect to see any dramatic change in the state of the nation’s health for a few years.
It’s up to us then
We need to take responsibility for our health and well-being and to encourage our families and friends to do the same. A report from the OECD in the last few days reveals Britain’s population to be the most obese in Western Europe – another pressing reason to promote a plant-based diet.
It’s a bit doom and gloom but we can do something about it. And, if we do, we’ll not only be healthier, we’ll look a bit trimmer too!
A few thoughts for World Diabetes Day.