Eggs and Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes develops when your pancreas produces insulin but your cells become insensitive to it – a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone which helps our cells absorb glucose (sugar) from the blood to make energy. Without it, blood sugar levels rise and cells don’t have enough energy to function. Diabetes can lead to heart disease, nerve damage, kidney failure and blindness.
Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adulthood and unhealthy diets and lifestyles are a major risk factor. Obese people are at a higher risk but it’s not a rule, even a slim person can become diabetic.
With insulin resistance, your body still produces insulin but the cells don’t react to it so all the sugar that gets into your blood after you’ve eaten cannot enter your cells. This causes high blood sugar levels which can damage blood vessels and even nerves, leading to further health issues.
Despite the widespread myth, eating sugar is not a cause of diabetes (although it is not healthy), the main problem lies elsewhere. Diets high in meat, saturated fat and processed foods (Western style diets) cause the accumulation of tiny droplets of fat in your muscle and liver cells. When there’s too many of these droplets, they interfere with the cell’s metabolism so it stops being able to react to insulin correctly, causing insulin resistance (Sparks et al., 2005; Morino et al., 2006; Consitt et al., 2009; Wali et al., 2020). Animal products, including eggs are major sources of unhealthy fats in the Western diets.
A large study revealed that people who ate an egg a day had double the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people who had less than one egg a week (Spence et al., 2010).
Another study of 57,000 US adults who ate eggs daily found they were 58-77 per cent more likely to develop diabetes type 2 than those who didn’t eat eggs (Djoussé et al., 2009). And an even bigger study by the same team revealed that the risk of type 2 diabetes starts increasing from eating two eggs a week (Djoussé et al., 2021).
Other studies also show that egg consumption increases the risk of type 2 diabetes (Lee et al., 2014; Mazidi et al. 2019). According to researchers, eating eggs and their cholesterol in particular affects blood sugar metabolism and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Lee et al., 2014). Cholesterol both inhibits the production of insulin and can lower the body’s sensitivity to it.
On the other hand, plant-based diets greatly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. This is because plant wholefoods naturally contain less fat, and saturated fat in particular, than animal products, they contain a lot more fibre helping to regulate blood sugar, many beneficial phytochemicals and complex carbohydrates – put simply, they make your body work better and lower your risk of diabetes (Chen et al., 2018). It may sound too good to be true but the evidence is now so strong that many healthcare professionals recommend a plant-based diet as a part of the disease treatment.
Vegans have up to 50 per cent lower risk of type 2 diabetes (Appleby and Key, 2016; Salas-Salvadó et al., 2019). And even if you already have the disease, there’s good news – a healthy vegan, diet low in fat and high in wholefoods, can help reverse it (Barnard et al., 2009; Kahleova et al., 2011; McMacken and Shah, 2017). In several studies, many patients were able to reduce their diabetes medication and some were able to discontinue it because they were no longer diabetic!
For more information on diabetes and diet, visit our dedicated Diabetes pages.
Ditching eggs is not just a healthy choice, it’s also an ethical and sustainable one. If you’re used to meals based around eggs, meat and dairy, the idea of a plant-based diet may be daunting but we’re here to help make it super easy!
All about eggs
Find all the above and more in Viva!’s resources on eggs and egg farming:
An eye-opening guide about the health impacts of egg consumption, egg-laying hens and Viva! investigations – Cracked.
A factsheet summarising all you need to know about eggs and your health.
A handy chart showing you how to replace eggs in cooking and baking.