Researchers have found that people who followed a low-fat vegan diet, cutting out all meat and dairy, lowered their blood sugar more and lost more weight than people on an American Diabetes Association diet.
According to a study by researchers from George Washington University, the University of Toronto and the University of North Carolina the participants lowered their cholesterol more and ended up with better kidney function, than a group following the standard American Diabetes Association diet.
It appears the vegan diet was far easier to follow than most because it did not demand that portions be measured or calories counted; only three of the vegan dieters dropped out of the study, compared to eight on the standard diet.
Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, which helped conduct the study, says he hopes the findings will encourage dietary changes first, rather than prescription drugs.
It is estimated that as many as 18 million Americans have type-2 diabetes, which results from a combination of genetics and poor eating and exercise habits.
The condition greatly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and limb loss.
Barnard and colleagues tested 99 people with type-2 diabetes, and then randomly assigned them to a low-fat, low-sugar vegan diet or the standard American Diabetes Association diet.
The researchers found that after 22 weeks on the diet, 43 percent of those on the vegan diet and 26 percent of those on the standard diet were either able to stop taking some of their drugs such as insulin or glucose-control medications, or were able to control their condition with lower doses.
The vegan dieters lost 14 pounds (6.5 kg) on average while the diabetes association dieters lost 6.8 pounds (3.1 kg).
An important level of glucose control called a1c which gives a measure of how well-controlled blood sugar has been over the preceding three months, fell by 1.23 points in the vegan group and by 0.38 in the group on the standard diet.
It was also found that LDL or "bad" cholesterol also fell by 21 percent in the vegan group and 10 percent in the standard diet group.
A vegan diet is plant-based and consists of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes and avoids animal products, such as meat and dairy and is low in added fat and in sugar.
As people on a vegan diet are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency supplements were given to the participants on that diet.
The American Diabetes Association diet is more individually tailored and takes into account a patient's weight and cholesterol. The diet cuts calories significantly, and are patients are told to limit sugary and starchy foods.
For the study all 99 participants met weekly with advisers, who advised them on recipes, gave them tips for sticking to their respective diets, and offered encouragement.
The overall message seems to be that diets work if people stick to them for long enough and everyone diagnosed with diabetes needs to start eating more carefully which is probably the hardest aspect to deal with.
The researchers say the results show that both diets improved diabetes management and reduced unhealthy cholesterol levels, but some improvements were greater with the low-fat vegan diet.
The research is published in Diabetes Care, a journal published by the American Diabetes Association.