Cutting out animal fats was found to trigger a decline in levels of HbA1C, a key blood protein and measure of blood glucose control, according to the study, carried out by researchers in the US and Japan. High levels of HbA1C can increase the risk of people with the disease developing complications.
The systemic review of six previous studies combined the results of 255 people with type 2 diabetes to see whether meat free or vegan diets improved blood glucose control.
The research, published in the journal Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy, concluded that the evidence “has shown that vegetarian diets reduce HbA1c levels, suggesting that they may be beneficial in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes”.
One of the authors, Dr Neal Barnard or George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Washington DC, was more emphatic, however.
“One simple prescription could help reverse diabetes, improve blood sugar, and lower weight, blood pressure and cholesterol,” he said. “And all this is possible, our analysis found, not with a new magic pill, but with tried-and-true simple changes to diet.”
Doctors believe there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, but the discovery that eating less meat may help prevent and manage the disease will hopefully inform the dietary decisions of millions of people around the world.
Three million people in the UK and almost 30 million people in the US suffer from type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease. Adults with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more at risk of heart disease or stroke compared with those without diabetes.
The research team said: “Vegetarian (including vegan) diets have benefits for cardiovascular health, hypertension, body weight and plasma lipids, and also provide nutritional advantages compared with omnivorous diets.” They added that the fact meat free diets have fewer calories was helpful in helping diabetic people control their weight.
The link between meat and diabetes has already been established in several medical papers.
In 2010 scientists at Harvard found that as little as 50g of processed meat a day increased the risk of developing diabetes, while a four-year study in Singapore suggested eating too much red meat almost doubled the risk of developing diabetes.
In support of the latest research, a 14-year study published last year of 66,485 women in France showed that those with a high-acid diet – typically as a result of a high intake of meat and dairy – were most at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.