How does a plant-based diet help diabetics have a better mood?

Following a healthy diet can help a person with diabetes manage their blood sugar and lower their risk for cardiovascular diseases. According to a study, a plant-based diet may even help enhance the mood of diabetics.

The meta-analysis, which was published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, involved researchers from the University of London.

For the study, the team of researchers conducted a review to determine the best nutritional interventions for individuals diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The findings suggest that plant-based or fully vegan diets were the best in managing this condition.

The benefits of a plant-based diet

According to the International Diabetes Federation, at least 642 million people will have diabetes by 2040. In the U.S., over 30 million people have already been diagnosed with diabetes. About 15 percent of all global deaths are due to diabetes, and the condition claimed the lives of five million people younger than 60 in 2015.

Diabetes is often linked to depression, which then influences how well an individual manages their blood glucose (sugar) levels.

The scientists explained that a plant-based diet was already associated with a reduced risk for Type 2 diabetes. In fact, this diet was also associated with improved biomarkers like cholesterol, which are linked to an individual’s cardiovascular health.

The study authors noted that a plant-based diet is beneficial since it can help prevent diabetes. The foods included in this type of diet also contains antioxidants, fiber, micronutrients and unsaturated fatty acids that have protective factors against the condition. (Related: Following a plant-based or vegan diet can reduce risk factors of Type 2 diabetes, research indicates.)

But prior to this meta-analysis, experts have yet to determine whether these types of diets could be linked to improved mood states in people with Type 2 diabetes, especially since the condition “is often comorbid with depression.”

The researchers mentioned that they didn’t find any systematic reviews in the literature that solely focused on “the psychological and medical outcomes of plant-based diet interventions in adults” that have Type 2 diabetes.

For the meta-analysis, the scientists analyzed over 1,200 articles, which were then reduced to 40 articles. The research team then selected 11 articles that best match the search criteria.

Out of the 11 selected articles, 10 studies were conducted since 2009, while one study was from 1999. The 11 studies observed a total of 433 volunteers, with 219 in the intervention groups and 214 in the control groups. The mean size of the studies was 48 participants, and the average length was about 28 weeks.

After a systematic critical analysis of the results, the researchers determined that both physical and emotional quality of life only improved in the patients who followed a plant-based or vegan diet. Depressive symptoms were significantly improved among the people who belonged to these groups.

According to the study findings, the participants who were on plant-based diets also improved their blood glucose levels and lost more weight compared to those in the control groups. Additionally, those in the plant-based groups reported reduced levels of diabetic nerve pain.

The researchers concluded, “Based on the evidence of the research analysis by this systematic review, it can be concluded that plant-based diets accompanied by educational interventions can significantly improve psychological health, quality of life, HbA1c levels and weight, and therefore the management of diabetes.”

Tips for following a plant-based diet

Individuals with diabetes should follow a plant-based diet, especially if they want to lose weight. This diet is beneficial since it lowers your risk of various weight-related health conditions such as heart disease.

If you’re not sure where to start, add more whole, unprocessed plant foods to your diet that are loaded with water and fiber. These kinds of food can help you become “mechanically full” before you become “calorically full.”

If you’re on a plant-based diet, eat more of the following foods:

  • Fruits (e.g., apples, blueberries, mangoes, and pears)
  • Herbs and spices (e.g., cardamom, cinnamon, paprika, and turmeric)
  • Intact whole grains (e.g., barley, brown rice, millet, and teff)
  • Leafy greens (e.g., arugula, lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard)
  • Legumes (e.g., green peas, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, and split peas)
  • Non-starchy vegetables (e.g., beets, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, and zucchini)
  • Starchy vegetables (e.g., butternut squash, corn, sweet potatoes, and yams)

Individuals with Type 2 diabetes should switch to a plant-based diet if they want to manage their blood glucose and improve their mood.

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