Objective: Several intervention studies have suggested that vegetarian or vegan diets have clinical benefits, particularly in terms of glycemic control, in patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D); however, no randomized controlled trial has been conducted in Asians who more commonly depend on plant-based foods, as compared to Western populations. Here, we aimed to compare the effect of a vegan diet and conventional diabetic diet on glycemic control among Korean individuals.
Materials and methods: Participants diagnosed with T2D were randomly assigned to follow either a vegan diet (excluding animal-based food including fish; n = 46) or a conventional diet recommended by the Korean Diabetes Association 2011 (n = 47) for 12 weeks. HbA1c levels were measured at weeks 0, 4, and 12, and the primary study endpoint was the change in HbA1c levels over 12 weeks.
Results: The mean HbA1c levels at weeks 0, 4, and 12 were 7.7%, 7.2%, and 7.1% in the vegan group, and 7.4%, 7.2%, and 7.2% in the conventional group, respectively. Although both groups showed significant reductions in HbA1C levels, the reductions were larger in the vegan group than in the conventional group (-0.5% vs. -0.2%; p-for-interaction = 0.017). When only considering participants with high compliance, the difference in HbA1c level reduction between the groups was found to be larger (-0.9% vs. -0.3%). The beneficial effect of vegan diets was noted even after adjusting for changes in total energy intake or waist circumference over the 12 weeks.
Conclusion: Both diets led to reductions in HbA1c levels; however, glycemic control was better with the vegan diet than with the conventional diet. Thus, the dietary guidelines for patients with T2D should include a vegan diet for the better management and treatment. However, further studies are needed to evaluate the long-term effects of a vegan diet, and to identify potential explanations of the underlying mechanisms.
Trial registration: CRiS KCT0001771.