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Is a plant based diet good for diabetics?

Plant based food for diabetics
James

We all know that following a ‘healthy’ diet is essential for the management of diabetes. However, the contents of that healthy diet is a topic that’s still hotly debated.

Plant-based diets have consistently been shown as beneficial for an array of health benefits. It’s been proven that health conditions from heart disease to brain health can be significantly improved by eating plants for fuel. But is a plant based diet good for diabetics?

We have unpacked the data, scoured the studies and used anecdotal evidence to give you the lowdown. Everything you need to know about how plant based diets relate to diabetes is below, so you can rest assured that your health is in good hands.

What is diabetes?

When you eat carbohydrates, it will be broken down into glucose and sent into your bloodstream. This rise in blood glucose will signal your pancreas to secrete a hormone called insulin, which then shuttles the glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells.

Once the glucose reaches your cells it can be used as energy or stored as fuel. However, in somebody that has diabetes, they will be unable to efficiently transport glucose from the bloodstream to the cells.

The downstream effects of this transportation issue is a sustained rise in blood glucose levels, which can lead to a plethora of health complications in the long-term. Heart disease, nerve damage, blindness, amputation and early mortality are all strongly associated with untreated diabetes.

plant based food energy

Type 1 vs Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is usually categorized as ‘type 1’ or ‘type 2’. Each type has a different mechanism, but both can ultimately be categorized as a fuel conversion issue.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition where the pancreas is unable to produce sufficient insulin. It means the body is unable to transport glucose from the blood to the cells without medical intervention.

This form of diabetes is often genetic and usually discovered early in life. It’s not viewed as reversable and is categorized as a chronic ‘lifelong’ condition.

Type 1 diabetics manage their condition through insulin injections, which should be taken after a meal. Diet composition also plays an integral role in managing blood sugar levels and can significantly impact the severity of long-term complications.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the cells are unable to absorb glucose from the blood. The issue often arises when cells become ‘resistant’ to the impact of the insulin that is carrying the glucose, which leads to it sometimes being labelled as ‘insulin resistance syndrome’.

The chronic and worsening nature of untreated type 2 diabetes can also lead to issues with the pancreas in the long-term. Since the pancreas keeps producing ever higher levels of insulin to force glucose into the cells, it will eventually get ‘burned out’.

It’s also worth noting that many believe a high-fat diet is the main cause of type 2 diabetes. This is founded on the belief that excess fat in the blood makes its way into the muscle and liver cells, known as ‘intercellular lipid’. Once the fat is inside the cell, it inhibits glucose transport into the cell, leaving it stuck circulating in the blood stream.

Most cases of type 2 diabetes are reversable through dietary intervention, providing the pancreas is still functioning. It’s a disease that is often caused by diet and lifestyle, rather than genetics.

Diabetes blood glucose monitor

Is a plant based diet good for type 1 diabetics?

The aim of type 1 diabetes should be to control blood glucose levels without needing to use high amounts of insulin. Constantly needing to use high levels of insulin is associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease and decreased life expectancy. In essence, we want to avoid overuse of insulin.

Healthy plant based diets are generally low in refined sugar and carbohydrates. Eating high fiber foods, such as whole grains and legumes, will slow the rate that glucose is deposited into the blood stream. In turn, this negates the need for large amounts of immediate post-meal insulin.

Additionally, we now have evidence showing that eliminating animal foods from your diet can actually reduce insulin requirements. The case study tracked a type 1 diabetic that switched from a moderate-carb omnivorous diet to a high-carb plant based diet. Following this intervention, his body weight, fasting blood glucose and insulin requirements saw a significant drop.

The mechanisms behind this anecdotal story still require further study, but the results are both compelling and promising. One train of thought is that high-fiber and high-carb nature of a plant based diet can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose disposal through enhanced insulin signaling.

It’s also worth mentioning that a vegan diet can lead to weight loss, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, healthy gut bacteria and improve diabetes related nerve damage. Anecdotes aside; these benefits are extremely valuable for type 1 diabetics.

plant based diet food

Is a plant based diet good for type 2 diabetics?

Any diet that’s good for type 2 diabetes should ultimately aim to manage and reverse the condition. It should consist of foods that keep blood sugar spikes to a minimum and stimulate only a small amount of insulin.

When insulin is kept low, you should be able to ‘unlock’ the excess energy that is stored in the cells, thus allowing them to absorb more blood sugar in the future. In essence, this is the method by which type 2 diabetes can be reversed.

Multiple robust studies have shown the profound impact that plant-based diets can have on blood sugar. Since it’s a diet that’s high in fiber and unrefined carbohydrates, sugars are digested much slower in the gut, which leads to a much lower blood glucose and insulin response. Over time, this results in the cells becoming resensitized to the effects on insulin.

Solid clinical trials have also shown that a low-fat, high-carb vegan diet can prevent, treat and reverse diabetes. Many of the doctors and biologists performing these trials cite saturated fat as the main contributor to disease formation, which is found predominantly in animal products.

Whether you believe that fat or sugar is the culprit, one thing is for certain; a plant-based diet is good for type 2 diabetes. Multiple reviews have shown that a plant-based diet is a great way to prevent and treat blood sugar conditions. In fact, one large-scale study showed vegans have a 77% reduction in the risk of developing diabetes. And that’s just one of many.

diabetic eating plant based food

How long does it take a plant-based diet to lower blood sugar?

The blood sugar lowering effects of plant-based diet usually happen immediately following the removal of animal products and processed foods. However, the lowering of your blood glucose numbers is incremental. Despite making a small amount of progress every day, it may take a few weeks to see tangible results.

In order to get an idea of the results you might expect, it’s useful to reference interventional studies that have looked at blood sugar changes following the switch to a plant-based diet.

One trial performed in 2016 followed the progress of 93 patients with type 2 diabetes after switching them to a high carbohydrate vegan diet. Over the proceeding 12 week period, the study participants showed a considerable reduction in HbA1c levels (average level of blood sugar over the last 2 or 3 months).

In addition, a 2017 meta-analysis looking at six plant-based studies concluded that ‘vegetarian diets, especially a vegan diet, are effective tools in glycemic control’. The study followed participants for an average of 24 weeks and saw a significant decrease in average blood sugar levels over this time period.

The totality of evidence makes it clear that a plant-based diet can significantly lower blood sugar in just a matter of months. Although fasting blood glucose levels may be reduced within a matter of weeks for some, most interventions have measured the results of patients over a longer timeframe.

Either way; it’s extremely likely that most people will see results after just a few weeks. Amazing.

Diabetic eating plant based food

Can you reverse diabetes with a plant based diet?

Mainstream medicine has long held the view that diabetes is a chronic condition that can be ‘managed’ with the use of drugs and lifestyle intervention. However, the word ‘reversal’ is rarely discussed.

Despite the misguided views of many medical experts, it’s now undeniable that type 2 diabetes can be reversed through dietary intervention. In fact, a plant based diet has already been shown to reverse diabetes in a large scale trial.

One peer-reviewed study looked at the impact of diet on a group of 38 type 2 diabetics over the course of 20 weeks. The diet used is known as the ‘NFI Protocol’, which is a whole-food plant based diet consisting predominantly of beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.

On completion of the 20 week trial, 84% of patients has reversed their diabetes. In addition, 32 of the 38 patients came completely off their medication during the 20 week protocol.

The NFI dietary pattern works by mobilizing the fat that has ‘covered’ the liver’s insulin receptors. It shows that a low-fat diet that’s free from animal products can be extremely effective in reversing type 2 diabetes.

It’s worth noting that medications alone are not capable of reversing diabetes. However, changing to a plant based diet might be the prescription you’re looking for.

plant based food

Is a plant based diet BEST for diabetes?

In clinical studies, we have seen diabetes improvement and reversal through the use of plant-based and low-carb diets. However, it’s my opinion that a plant-based diet is best for diabetes.

Following a plant-based diet can improve your diabetes without unwanted side effects. If you decide to take medication or follow a low-carb diet that includes animal products; you’re likely to experience fewer positive health outcomes in the long-term.

Fortunately, the side-effects associated with plant-based diet are extremely positive. Here are some additional health benefits you can expect to achieve:

  • Reduced inflammation
  • Lower body weight
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Improved gut health
  • Lower risk of neurodegenerative disease
  • Lower LDL cholesterol
  • Reduced carbon footprint

In addition, a plant-based diet is incredibly easy to follow and can be very cost effective. It also negates the need for calorie counting or carbohydrate restriction, which will allow you to feel satisfied when you leave the dinner table. In most cases, this should make compliance to this type of diet relatively easy.

The effects of a plant-based diet on type 2 diabetes are also incredibly long-lasting, with complete reversal being achievable in many cases. It’s a dietary pattern that fixes the root cause of the condition, which should always be the goal of any health intervention.

Happy diabetic

Summary

The evidence presented in this article proves that a plant based diet is good for diabetics. Whether you’re type 1 or type 2; you’re likely to see positive results when filling your plate with plants.

Eating a whole-food plant-based diet has been shown to help with the management of type 1 diabetes by improving blood sugar stability. It has also been shown to reverse type 2 diabetes by reducing liver fat and improving insulin sensitivity. So, is a plant based diet good for diabetics? Based on the scientific research, absolutely.

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