Plant-Based Diets and Type 2 Diabetes – Part 1

Mother Nature has appointed plants with the mighty role of improving digestive and immune function. Don’t wait; power your way to better health with a plant-based diet that is as satisfying as it is nutritious. Recent research has shown that plant-based diets can prevent type 2 diabetes and its associated health risks.

Meat-lovers, romaine calm! A plant-based diet contains only mostly whole plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, with some animal products. Don’t forget to add antioxidant-rich herbs and spices to give a flavorful flair to every dish. In terms of nutrition, they are kind of a big “dill.”

Considering a plant-based diet with type 2 diabetes?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) states that “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain disease." And they also state that “people with diabetes and those at risk for diabetes” should increase “fiber intake, preferably through food (vegetables, pulses [beans, peas, and lentils), fruits, and whole intact grains.”1

Vegetarians include plant-based foods, plus eggs and or dairy. Vegans are 100% plant-based. But you don’t need to be either to eat mostly plants! Find a ratio that works for you to reap the many health benefits.

The power of plants

Plant-based eating is a one-stop shop to better manage, treat, and reduce the risk of conditions associated with type 2 diabetes.2 An array of studies showed statistically significant improvements in HgbA1c, glycemic control, macro- and microvascular risks, and cholesterol when following a plant-based diet. One particular study showed a 0.96 percentage point drop in A1C levels, along with an overall reduction in body weight by 12.7 lbs over 22 weeks.3

The Adventist Health Studies found that plant-based or vegetarian diets have half the risk of developing diabetes compared to nonvegetarians.4 A separate study showed that over a 17 years period, nonvegetarians were 74% more likely to develop diabetes than vegetarians.4 Plant-forward eating helps with type 2 diabetes management and can help other family members without type 2 diabetes. So ask them to get on board and embrace their inner veg-head with you!

More plants for optimal health outcomes

While eating mostly whole-plant foods will improve one’s health, it’s slightly more complicated than that. After all, an all-cookie diet could technically be plant-based. Diets high in processed foods, whether vegetarian or omnivorous will often be low in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.5 So, choosing plant-forward closest to nature is always best; think kale chips over potato chips!

It’s the nutrient-dense whole foods that help with the treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes. Research also shows that avoiding animal products, highly refined grains, and added sugars and oils can improve type 2 diabetes complications.

So, what is the most optimal plant-based diet? It’s one that includes nutrient-dense plant foods with minimal processed foods, excess oils, and animal-based items. But a plant-forward lifestyle doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. It can consist of small amounts of animal products and still confer the same health benefits. For example, a study by Ornish et al. discovered that including some animal products, like egg whites and non-fat milk, into a mostly plant-based diet could help prevent disease.4

How do the American Diabetes Association guidelines stack up against a plant-based diet?

In a study by Turner-McGrievy et al., the American Diabetes Association (ADA) dietary recommendations were compared to a low-fat vegan diet for those with type 2 diabetes management. Although both groups reduce overall calorie, fat, cholesterol, and sodium intake, the low-fat vegan group had a significant increase in vegetable, fruit, nut, and soy intake and decreased trans-fat intake. These foods contain phytonutrients, powerful plant compounds with specific biological activities such as polyphenols and flavonoids that help your body fight oxidative stress, viruses, disease, and other illnesses.6

Additionally, in this study, individuals found it easier to adhere to a vegetarian or a more plant-based diet than the conventional ADA diet.7 Plant-based eating is easier than you thought AND more effective than traditional diets to reduce the risk and manage type 2 diabetes symptoms. Talk about a win-win!

Plant-based diets require fewer rules

A plant-based diet requires fewer rules and restrictions than traditional diets, such as carbohydrate restriction. Popular diets like the Mediterranean, Dash, and the Mind Diet are predominantly plant-based diets. This pattern of eating focuses on what you can eat rather than what you must restrict. Live more healthfully, sustainably, economically, and liberally with a plant-based diet. Shift to a more plant-i-ful way of eating by opting for foods that are sold on the outskirts of a grocery store—fresh fruits and vegetables, fortified plant milk, nuts, and my favorite, cashew cheese. And don’t forget to engage with the growers at your local farmer’s market to learn the tastiest ways to enjoy fresh produce. Check back next month for a week full of plant-based tasty meal ideas!

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