Diabetes affects millions of people every single day. It may run in your family, leading to Type 1 diabetes, which is genetically disposed and irreversible, however, Type 2 diabetes is a whole other story. Type 2 diabetes develops due to poor blood sugar, usually influenced by lifestyle factors. Red meat, fatty foods, processed sugars, a diet high in refined carbohydrates, a lack of exercise, and poor weight management can all lead to Type 2 diabetes. Other risk factors include women with past histories of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and other hormonal disorders that affect insulin levels.
How Does Diabetes Happen in The First Place?
Diabetes occurs due to poor insulin function in the body. Normally, when a carbohydrate is consumed, the hormone insulin releases glucose from foods into the bloodstream where it helps turn the sugars into energy by helping glucose to enter the cells. All excess glucose is stored in the liver (which usually leads to excess fat storage.) However, in someone with diabetes, cells don’t properly absorb glucose, which results in consistently high blood sugar. This sugar cravings leading to more sugar intake, and the cycle happens all over again. Over time, this consistent poor glucose response leads to insulin resistance where the body keeps producing excess insulin but since it never works properly, so the muscles, liver, and cells aren’t able to use it for energy. Over time, the pancreas stops producing insulin.
Should We Avoid All Carbs?
A carb-free diet is not necessary, nor helpful, for improving diabetes. Many carbs such as non-starchy veggies, low-glycemic fruits, root vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds all come with major blood sugar benefits: fiber. Fiber slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which helps slow down the glycemic response. A low-glycemic, plant-based diet has been linked to improved chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, along with heart disease.
How to Eat a Low Glycemic, Plant-Based Diet
Be sure to balance your protein, carb, and fat intake at each meal. Some studies show that reducing excess fats in your diet (especially from oil) may also help reduce your risks and chances of developing Type 2 diabetes and manage diabetes once you have it. Why? Fat blocks glucose from reaching cells efficiently, so all the excess glucose gets sent to the liver and never used for energy. This results in weight gain and poor blood sugar levels. It’s also damaging to the arteries and the heart.
This being said, for meals, it’s best to fill your plate with as many leafy greens and non-starchy veggies as you can (think half-way full), a serving of beans and legumes for plant-based protein and fiber (edamame, black beans, lentils, and chickpeas all make great options.) The other portion of your plate can include starchy veggies like sweet potatoes or winter squash, or some whole grains if you enjoy them. Nuts and seeds should be considered snacks, not a large part of meals. They are also best when used as a topping on a salad say, than eaten in large amounts. Nuts and seeds can very much improve blood sugar levels, but shouldn’t be consumed in excess due to their high amounts of fat. Basing your foods off greens, veggies, low-glycemic starches, and beans/legumes is thought of the best four food groups for diabetics. What about animal foods? Animal foods raise blood sugar levels, making a plant-based diet the best choice.
If you’re having a hard time transitioning, take it one step at a time and avoid red meat, dairy, and high-fat sources at all costs. The best way to embrace a plant-based diet is crowd out animal foods on your plate with a rich amount of plant-based foods. Try these:
Best Foods to Manage Your Blood Sugar:
• Leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and romaine)
• Butternut Squash
• Sweet Potatoes (yams)
• Red potatoes
• Black beans
• Green peas
• Kidney beans
• Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
• Oats and oatmeal (not instant)
• Coconut Flour
• Small amounts of nuts and seeds daily
• Unsweetened almond, soy, hemp, and cashew milk
This is by no means an exclusive list, but does offer some of the best lower-glycemic and/or high fiber foods on a plant-based diet.
Some Samples Meals:
• Oatmeal with unsweetened almond milk, blueberries, cranberries, blackberries or raspberries with 1 teaspoon flaxseed and coconut flour added for flavor, protein, and fiber. Season with cinnamon and sweeten with stevia (not artificial sugars.)
• Quinoa with sauteed kale, broccoli, tamari for seasoning, lentils, and chopped winter squash
• Vegan chili
• A Superfood, fiber-filled smoothie
• Overnight oatmeal made with oats, chia seeds, unsweetened non-dairy milk, vanilla, and some pumpkin puree. Top with cinnamon, ginger, and sweeten with some stevia or some plain applesauce.
• Vegan protein pancakes
• Sweet Potato and Kale Patties
• A salad made with chickpeas, salsa, lentils, romaine lettuce, spinach, red bell peppers, broccoli, and some hot mustard for drizzling. Add a touch of black pepper and squeeze of lemon for extra Vitamin C and flavor.
It’s also important to exercise, which improves insulin function in the body. Thirty minutes, five times a week and staying active, along with a healthy diet are amazing prevention and management tactics anyone can take advantage of.
If you have diabetes and have seen how a plant-based diet has improved your health, please share with us in the comments below!