Since I wrote my new book, The Plant-Powered Plan to Beat Diabetes, I’ve been getting so many questions on mastering diabetes with plant-based eating. So, today, I’m answering all of your questions and giving you the facts on how you can reduce your risk of getting diabetes, as well as how to live longer if you already have diabetes.
Diabetes is important stuff. There are 422 million cases of type 2 diabetes at a global level. You can fight off type 2 diabetes, but once you have this condition, it can be tough, as you are at risk for multiple complications, such as heart and eye disease, nerve damage, and even brain dysfunction. However, the good news is that your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes in the first place, and if you already have type 1 or 2 diabetes, you can manage it well with a wholesome diet in order to live a long healthy life and reduce your risks for complications. Read on as I answer your top questions on how to master diabetes with diet.
1. Is it really true that eating a plant-based diet is good for diabetes–even given these foods have carbs? Why?
Yes, in the past we’ve focused so much on total carbohydrates for diabetes, regardless of their quality. But now research is beginning to show us that eating a healthy, minimally processed, high quality, balanced plant-based diet—a delicious diet filled with earthy beans, crunchy whole grains, vibrant vegetables, colorful fruits, rich nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, you can not only help prevent diabetes from happening in the first place, you can better manage diabetes if you already have it, as well as prevent the prevalent complications from occurring, such as heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, and eye damage; and even lower your use of medications. Some people even go into remission with a plant-based diet and healthy lifestyle, according to research.
2. What does the research say about eating a plant-based diet on diabetes prevention and management?
Studies have shown for a couple of decades now that people who eat plant-based diets have lower rates of diabetes. For example, the AHS-2 study found that vegetarians had a 54% lower risk and vegans a 77% lower risk, compared to non-vegetarians. Other studies have confirmed these observations. One review that included nine nutrition studies and 300,000 people found that people who ate mostly a plant-based diet reduced their risk by 23%. Another study found that people with diabetes on oral medications and insulin were able to get off their medications after 25 days on a near-vegetarian diet and exercise program.
3. What types of plant-based diets are good for diabetes?
We are learning more that it’s not just “plant-based,” that counts, it’s the quality of plant-based diets—after all sodas, chips, and cookies can be vegan, right? High-fiber, low-glycemic whole plant foods are the focus of a diabetes-friendly diet. Fiber has blood glucose control benefits—foods high in fiber produce slower rises in glucose levels, and they help with gut and heart health and weight too. We should be aiming for 40 grams of fiber per day (Americans only get about 15 g per day on average). There is a spectrum of plant-based diets that show benefits, from vegan to vegetarian to pescatarian to semi-vegetarian. Studies generally show the more plant-based the better, but the simple act of replacing animal products with more whole plant foods is where it’s at. A growing body of evidence links intake of red–especially processed meats–with all sorts of issues, including type 2 diabetes risk, as well as heart disease and cancer. Plant-based diets like the Med diet have been linked with lower rates of diabetes, too.
4. Are there different strategies for eating when you look at the various types of diabetes?
This style of eating is good for all kinds of diabetes: if you are at risk for diabetes, if you have prediabetes, gestational diabetes, or type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It’s the same diet—which is also good for your heart, brain, kidneys, and overall health. It’s also good for the planet, as eating this way is linked to a lower environmental footprint. I recommend that you plan a specific meal plan with your registered dietitian, who is familiar with your personal diabetes management plan so that your diet meets your overall nutrient, medication plan, and health goals.
5. What are the key elements of a plant-based diet that seem to be good for helping to prevent and manage diabetes?
Plant-based diets have so many benefits! These diets are lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories, but higher in special nutrients. Plants offer a symphony of nutrients, in particular phytochemicals that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, and fiber, which helps the body in numerous ways, such as boosting the gut microbiome to improve health and metabolism. These foods also act as insulin sensitizers. And plant-based eating can help the ABCs of diabetes: A1C (a measure of blood glucose over time), blood pressure, and cholesterol. It can also help keep your weight and waist circumference in a healthy range, which is crucial for diabetes prevention and management. People who eat plant-based diets weigh significantly less, have half the rates of hypertension, 35% lower cholesterol levels, and lower inflammatory markers, compared to non-vegetarians.
6. What is the overall goal of a healthy diet for diabetes prevention and management?
We want to control blood glucose levels and keep A1C levels in a healthy range, and also prevent complications that frequently occur as a side effect of diabetes: 63% of people with diabetes have hypertension, 56% have dyslipidemia, 18% are obese, and half will die of CVD (especially heart disease and stroke). It can damage organs, like kidneys, eyes, and nerves. It raises the risk for Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer. By keeping your diabetes under control, you can reduce these complications.
7. What are some of the key foods that are part of a diabetes-fighting diet?
Plant proteins (soyfoods, pulses, nuts, seeds), whole grains, vegetables (especially non-starchy), fruits, healthy plant fats, spices, and herbs. It’s important to eat a diverse range of foods to maximize our nutrient intake for health. The FAO says that 90% of our global energy intake comes from only 15 crop plants, but we could be eating from 20,000 edible species.
8. What does a day of eating look like for someone fighting diabetes?
You could have a day of delicious healthy eating, such as:
- Breakfast: Tempeh Sweet Potato Breakfast Hash, Grapefruit Half, with Coffee
- Lunch: Open Face Vegan BLTA Sandwich, Green Salad and Iced Tea
- Dinner: Sizzling Fajitas with Beans and Corn Tortillas and Sparkling Water
- Snack: Cantaloupe with soy yogurt
9. What information do you provide to readers in your book, The Plant-Powered Plan to Beat Diabetes, that can help them prevent diabetes or treat it? How can it help them?
The book starts with explaining the latest science and information on why plant-based diets can help fight diabetes. I have excerpts and quotes from leading diabetes experts I interviewed on how plant-based diets fight diabetes. Then I dive into the how—how you create a beautiful, delicious, balanced plant-based diet based on whole foods. I go into each of the food groups, explaining and detailing through easy-to-use charts and guides, which foods should be part of your meals every day. I provide shopping lists, plate planning techniques, and sample menus to help you plan your diet. I also provide tips in every chapter on how to put your diabetes-friendly diet plan into action, such as how to skim sugar and salt in your diet, and how much exercise is beneficial. I also include references for all of the science in this book, so you can validate it on your own. Then come the 100 healthy, delicious, vegan recipes I created in my own kitchen in Ojai, California!
10. What kinds of recipes are available in your book? Which are your favorites?
I’ve been creating recipes for my books and social community for 20 years. My aesthetic is fresh, vibrant, delicious, colorful, and globally inspired. I firmly believe that healthy food can be absolutely delicious! I’ve had an opportunity to study many traditional diets and cuisines around the world and I bring that inspiration to my culinary style. I have 100 recipes in every category: breakfast, appetizers, drinks, soups & stews, salads, bowls, sandwiches & tacos, main dishes, sides, dressings & sauces, and desserts.
Some of my favorite recipes include: Sicilian Caponata, Broccoli Leek Soup, Raw Purple Power Salad, Shawarma-Inspired Cauliflower & Bulgur Bowls, Spanish-Style Vegetable Paella, Grilled Herb Spring Vegetables, and Old-Fashioned Tropical Ambrosia.
Research shows that plant-based diets offer lasting benefits for people living with diabetes or prediabetes. In the United States, nearly 12% of the population has diabetes, with an additional 38% of adults experiencing prediabetes. And while there are numerous cookbooks that cater to those with diabetes, vegan options are scarce. Now, vegan nutritionist Sharon Palmer, also known as The Plant-Powered Dietitian, brings her decades of experience in plant-based cuisine with The Plant-Powered Plan to Beat Diabetes—a 100% plant-based cookbook that can help manage diabetes, prevent complications, and promote optimal health that includes 100 easy vegan recipes that are both inventive and delicious.
In this cookbook, Sharon breaks down the existing research on managing diabetes into a relatable and persuasive tone, using user-friendly graphs and charts, as well as a warm and friendly attitude that will inspire readers. The book includes step-by-step meal planning, cooking tips, and shopping lists, and original photography, with globally-inspired, and heart-healthy recipes that make it easy and convenient to change eating habits for good health while enjoying delicious food. Whether you are considering a 100% plant-based diet or merely shifting to a more plant-forward eating style, Sharon makes it easy and convenient to adopt an irresistible plant-based lifestyle in your own home. Most importantly, the book provides the motivation for getting started and strategies for sticking with it. Sharon’s straightforward approach to plant-based eating for diabetes management makes this cookbook an excellent gift and tool for family members living with diabetes or for clinicians, nutritionists, nurses, or health practitioners who treat and manage patients with diabetes.