Type 2 diabetes

The disease

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes (around 90% of cases). It is a chronic metabolic condition in which glucose levels are too high within the bloodstream, and is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.


The disease has become a global epidemic, affecting over 425 million adults in 2017, and projected to reach 629 million by 2045 worldwide, rising rapidly as the modern Western diet is increasingly adopted in developing countries.


An estimated 1 million Australian adults (5%) had type 2 diabetes in 2014–15, and rates are similar in New Zealand (6% of adults). Socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with higher prevalence. Indigenous Australians are 3 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes compared to the rest of the population, and in New Zealand, people of Māori, Pacific and South-Asian ethnicities are particularly at risk.

The cause


The highly processed, energy dense Western diet is the root cause of this chronic disease.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by the cells of the body becoming ‘resistant’ to insulin. As body weight increases, so too does risk of this disease. Fat stored in muscle cells reduces their sensitivity to insulin, resulting in increased blood glucose levels, and leading to type 2 diabetes.

The nutrition prescription

Evidence on nutritional interventions demonstrates that a whole food plant-based eating pattern is highly effective in both the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes, including lasting resolution:

  • The Adventist Health Studies have found that vegetarians have approximately half the risk of developing diabetes as nonvegetarians. [1],[2]

  • Randomised controlled trials have shown that in many cases type 2 diabetes can be stopped and reversed on a low fat whole food plant-based diet. [3],[4]

  • A whole food plant-based eating pattern also provides the best chance of avoiding long term complications, and increasing quality of life and life expectancy for all people with diabetes. [2],[4]

Medical supervision of diet change is essential

Shifting to a low fat plant-based diet can lead to rapid reductions in medication needs for diabetic patients, and must only be undertaken under medical supervision.

Video overview from NutritionFacts.org

Run time: 4 minutes

Patient recovery testimonial from Forks Over Knives

Run time: 6 minutes

Further resources​

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Plant-based Health Australia: an up-to-date review of the evidence base on diabetes and diet, with detailed references and case studies.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: summary, 18-minute TEDx video, fact sheet download and links to related articles.


Q: What about type 1 diabetes?


A: There are also benefits in eating a plant-based diet for people with type 1 diabetes.

Q: What about pre-diabetes?

A: Pre-diabetes is indicated when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. It affects 1 in 6 Australians over 25. The nutrition recommendations for pre-diabetes are the same as for type 2 diabetes.

Key references

  1. Vang A, Singh PN, Lee JW, Haddad EH, Brinegar CH. Meats, processed meats, obesity, weight gain and occurrence of diabetes among adults: findings from Adventist Health Studies. Ann Nutr Metab. 2008;52(2):96-104. Epub 2008 Mar 18.

  2. Tonstad S, Stewart K, Oda K, Batech M, Herring RP, Fraser GE Vegetarian diets and incidence of diabetes in the Adventist Health Study-2. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2013 Apr; 23(4):292-9.

  3. Yokoyama Y, Barnard ND, Levin SM, Watanabe M. Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiovasc Diagn Ther. 2014 Oct;4(5):373-82.

  4. McMacken, M; Shah, S (2017) A Plant-Based Diet For The Prevention And Treatment Of Type 2 Diabetes. Journal Of Geriatric Cardiology 2017 May; 14(5):342-354 

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