A plant-based diet helps maintain the levels of glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C) (a biomarker to which glucose is bound). Consuming this diet and regularly exercising improves the diabetic condition and reduces the need for medicines. If we compare this with the diabetic diet that restricts only carbohydrate and calorie intake, this diet is three times more effective in controlling our blood glucose level in turn controlling diabetes.
High fiber and carbohydrate intake in a plant-based diet cause better management of glycemic status. Reduction in triacylglycerol and cholesterol levels also improves diabetic conditions. It is mainly due to the presence of low-glycemic index foods like legumes, whole grains, etc. The carbohydrates present in these foods are absorbed, digested, and metabolized at a slow pace, which comparatively lowers the increase in blood sugar levels.
According to two case studies published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolism, plant-based diets improve insulin sensitivity in individuals with type 1 diabetes.
Not only does a plant-based diet prevent diabetes but also successfully treats those diagnosed with the disease. As this diet is lower in saturated fat and is rich in fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, it fits well with the dietary guidelines of diabetic patients.
An emphasis on its importance has also been talked about by Hana Kahleova, MD, the director of clinical research with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC.in the following words:
“They not only reduce the risk of diabetes, but also cancer and heart disease, and they may prolong life by 10 to 12 years.”
What are the Complications of Diabetes?
The longer your blood sugar levels remain uncontrollable, the higher the risk of these complications becomes. It may lead to complications, which in the worst cases, may also be life-threatening. Some of these complications include:
The risk of cardiovascular problems increases with diabetes. It may include stroke, chest pain (angina), atherosclerosis, and heart attack.
Nerve Damage (Neuropathy)
Excess sugar in our blood damages the walls of our capillaries, which may cause numbness, tingling, and pain in our fingers or toes. If left untreated, the sense of feeling may be lost. Nerve damage can also affect the process of digestion, which may contribute to problems such as diarrhea and vomiting.
The development of blisters may lead to more serious infections that may require amputation of the leg, foot, or toe.
Damage to the nerves and blood vessels may result in hearing problems.
What is A Plant-Based Diet and What Does it Include?
A plant-based diet mainly focuses on foods that are derived from plants. It does not only include vegetables and fruits only but also contains seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, beans, and nuts.
Advantages of A Plant-Based Diet
Due to being rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, plant-based foods maintain the health and regularity of our digestive system. They also have probiotics present in them, which keep our gut healthy.
Improves Heart Health
Numerous researches suggest that a diet rich in plant foods reduces the risk of heart disease and blood pressure. Soluble fibers like vegetables, beans, barley lower the blood cholesterol levels. Fruits and vegetables have cardio-protective antioxidants in them. The monounsaturated fats in avocados, seeds, and olive oil improve our hearts.
The fruits and vegetables in this diet have a lot of zeaxanthin, lutein, and antioxidants present in it, which is necessary for good eye health and reduces the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Supports Weight Loss
Many studies indicate that plant-based diets lower our body mass index and prevent obesity in both children and adults. This diet is low in energy density and is higher in complex carbohydrates and water which increases our metabolism and satiety.
What Should be Included in Your Diet?
To improve diabetes, the following foods should be a part of your diet:
- Olive oil
- Flax seeds
- Whole fruit instead of juices
- High-fiber cereals
- Bread made from whole grains
What Should be Avoided in Your Diet?
To prevent diabetes, the following should be completely eliminated from the diet:
- Packaged foods
- Baked items
- White bread
- Sugary cereals
- Refined rice
- Red meat
- Low-fat products, which replace fats with added sugar (such as fat-free yogurt)
Why Are Animal Products Harmful?
Consuming animal products causes fat deposits in our body cells, which prevents insulin from transporting glucose from the blood to the cells. It causes the glucose levels in our blood to rise, causing hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. A plant-based diet, however, contains little amount of saturated fat in it, which reduces fat deposits in our cells and maintains the function of insulin. Consuming this diet instead of animal products reduces our risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
How to Get Started with A Plant-Based Diet?
- Eat a lot of vegetables
- Cook a meal once a week that includes only vegetables in it
- Choose good fats like nuts, olive oil
- Include whole grains like quinoa, oatmeal in your breakfast
- Try a variety of greens such as kale, collards as they are rich in minerals and nutrients
- Eat fruits for dessert
- Build your meals around salads
We should realize how important it is to change our dietary choices. Individuals with diabetes should speak to a dietician on how to design their plant-based diet so they can get maximum nutrients from it. Even though this may seem like a difficult feat at first but taking small steps to increase plant consumption and reducing the proportion of animal products in our diets helps in maintaining our glucose level while reducing the risk of getting a stroke.