How a Plant-Based Diet Can Help Manage Your Diabetes


Your body is a machine, and you need food to fuel it. But for people living with diabetes, it is essential to consider what foods you eat. Choosing foods that help to keep your diabetes in check will mean improved overall health. For some, a plant-based diet may do the trick.

A plant-based diet is an eating pattern that emphasizes eating vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds and a limited amount of healthful fats high in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The diet reduces or completely eliminates consuming animal products (can give examples here). A 2019 study found people who ate a mostly plant-based diet reduced their risk of diabetes by 23%, and a 30% drop in the risk of type 2 diabetes for people who ate healthy plant-based foods, including veggies, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.

“Whole food plant-based diets may reduce the risk of many chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. It’s also full of vitamins and minerals, and fiber that are important for your body to function properly,” says Rachel Stahl, a Registered Rietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Plant-based diets have been found to prevent or manage diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing insulin resistance. A 2018 review published in the journal Current Diabetes Report found that vegetarian and vegan diets could help people living with diabetes reduce their medication needs, lose weight, and improve other metabolic markers

But Stahl warns that not all plant-based foods are created equal. Processed foods and foods with added sugar, like refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages (like fruit juice and soda), can be as detrimental as a meat-laden diet. A study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation found that adults who increased consumption of unhealthy plant-based foods had a 12% greater risk of death than those whose diets remained stable over the study period. Instead, you should incorporate fruits, leafy green vegetables, whole grains like brown rice and faro, healthy fats like avocados, legumes, and nuts into your diet.  Ways to get started with a plant-based diet

“One thing I really love recommending to my patients is the concept of ‘Meatless Monday,’” she says. In addition to having considerable health effects, going meatless just one day a week can save the lives of 3.5 animals a year per person, 100 billion gallons of water, and 70 million gallons of gas each year. “Cutting meat from your diet one day a week can help with the transition. It can be hard to move cold-turkey to a whole food plant-based diet. But this can be a good first step.”

While any day of the week is great to change a habit, research shows that Mondays are the best time of the week to try something new because people feel more motivated at the start of the week. Also, studies have found that adopting healthy habits on Mondays increases your odds of maintaining progress over time.

Tips for incorporating more plants into your diet

Even if you’re not committed to transitioning from an omnivore diet to a plant-based diet, Stahl recommends packing your meals with as many fruits and vegetables as possible. Here are some helpful ways to bring more plants into your meal plan.

  • Add fruit like berries, or sliced apples or bananas to oatmeal.
  • Make a veggie filled omelet
  • Make chili with kidney beans instead of ground beef or turkey
  • Add vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, or avocado to your sandwich.
  • Keep raw veggie sticks handy, such as green or red bell peppers, green beans, celery, or carrots.
  • Freeze fruits like grapes, bananas, or strawberries for a refreshing snack on a hot day.
  • Add a side of steamed or microwaved vegetables to your meal— frozen veggies are fine.
  • Think of meat as the garnish and fill up the rest of the plate with plant-based foods like non-starchy vegetables, beans and whole grains
  • Have a piece of fruit, like a peach, apple, or watermelon slice, for dessert.

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