Adopting plant-based diet has potential to ‘reverse diabetes’


Climate change is the single biggest global health threat.

This is a sentiment shared by a group of South African health science researchers who will be presenting the findings of the country’s first-ever plant-based diabetes reversal challenge during the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.

There are currently 400 million diabetics living in the world. While type 1 diabetes is less frequent and typically caused by genetic predispositions, type 2 diabetes, which was formerly considered to solely affect adults, has become so common that children as young as 5 years can develop it.

South Africans are becoming more obese due to Western eating habits and increased food consumption.

Mweete Debra, a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town (UCT), conducted research that highlighted how African countries are experiencing increasingly rapid urbanisation, globalisation of food markets, and economic and human development.

These are linked to changes in lifestyle, such as increased sedentary behaviour, physical inactivity, and increased consumption of “Westernised diets.”

Dr Nanine Wyma, programmes manager at ProVeg South Africa and managing director of the Physicians Association for Nutrition (Pan) South Africa, will present the findings during the one-day symposium on the health co-benefits of plant-based food system transformation.

Dr Nanine Wyma. South African researchers hope that this study will help to focus attention on how Africa will respond to the challenges associated with global warming. Picture: Supplied

The South African researchers hope that this study will help to focus attention on how Africa will respond to the challenges associated with global warming. Because of how global warming is affecting food systems and diets.

This multimedia presentation will tell the story of South Africa’s first plant-based nutrition implementation study for diabetes. PAN South Africa researchers gathered data from 10 diabetics and their physicians who completed a 21-day whole food plant-based challenge. The side-event features evidence from a multi-case pilot study, as well as documentary footage.

Participants in the study came from a variety of settings, including urban, peri-urban, informal settlements, and rural regions, such as the Western Cape’s Cape Town, Nyanga, Imizamo Yethu, and Bonteheuwel, Gauteng’s Sandton, Springs and Kempton Park, and Mpumalanga’s Mpumalanga (Napier).

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“Not only did we get information from the diabetics who followed the plant-based challenge, but we also interviewed their health-care providers,” said Wyma. “This gives us insight into how we can implement plant-based nutrition in both public and private health-care settings.”

“Using plant-based nutrition to manage chronic diseases has been shown to be effective in many countries around the world,” said Wyma.

“But we cannot simply copy and paste interventions from the Global North. South Africa is incredibly unique and we must pursue research on how these interventions can be applied within a local context. This is not only an opportunity for improved healthcare in South Africa but the rest of the continent as well.”

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