Here in the United States, 9.3 percent of the population (over 29 million!) has diabetes. Every year, 1.4 million Americans becomes a newly diagnosed diabetic. If you don’t have diabetes, you probably know someone who does. It’s a growing epidemic and can lead to complications such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, loss of feet and limbs, blindness and kidney disease.
Luckily, word is starting to spread about the benefits of eating plants to combat this chronic disease. Many a doctor has said, if a plant-based diet came in pill form, it would be the miracle cure and everyone would want one. Lose weight, improve blood sugar control, decrease risk of cancer and heart disease, clear up your skin and recover from exercise faster with absolutely no negative side effects? Sounds perfect.
There’s tons of research to support the benefits of eating a plant-based diet. This study found that diabetics who replaced at least 35 percent of their total protein intake with plant protein (like soy, legumes and nuts) improved their blood sugar control. Imagine what would happen if they had replaced 50 percent of their meat consumption with plants — or even all of it!
These results are in line with other studies, such as the Adventist Health Study, in which vegetarian/vegan diets are associated with a lower risk for diabetes, as well as all-cause mortality. In a study of 92,000 women and 40,000 men, replacing just one serving of animal protein for plant protein was associated with a 10 to 21 percent reduced risk for type 2 diabetes. On the flip side, evidence shows that diets high in animal protein (especially red meat) are associated with an increased occurrence of the chronic disease.
Why, specifically, are plant-derived foods a better choice?
1. Fat in animal protein interferes with the job of insulin, blocking the lock-and-key system so sugar can’t even get into your cells.
2. The iron from animals (heme-iron) is particularly easy for humans to absorb and can harm the cells of our pancreas where insulin is made.
3. Iron from plant-sources is much safer, as our body will only take what it needs and not risk overloading.
4. In addition to iron, the researchers suggest the amino acid profile in plant proteins to be protective.
5. Studies have also shown the level of sodium and nitrites found in meats to be especially harmful.
So, if you’re looking to improve your blood sugar, prevent blood sugar problems (in addition to addressing cholesterol, inflammation or weight issues), try eating some plant protein! Options like Black Bean Burgers, Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad or Garlic Zucchini with Stuffed Chickpeas are tasty and satisfying. For help incorporating plants into your diet, talk to a dietitian.
Want more plant-based recipes? Try these:
Interested in a plant-based diet? Check out The Plant-Based Journey: A Step-by-Step Guide for Transitioning to a Healthy Lifestyle and Achieving Your Ideal Weight.
American Diabetes Association. Statistics About Diabetes. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/.
Viguiliouk E, Stewart SE, Jayalath VH, et al. Effect of replacing animal protein with plant protein on glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrients. 2015;7:9804-9824.
Tonstad, S.; Butler, T.; Yan, R.; Fraser, G.E. Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2diabetes. Diabetes Care 2009, 32, 791–796.
Tonstad, S.; Stewart, K.; Oda, K.; Batech, M.; Herring, R.P.; Fraser, G.E. Vegetarian diets and incidence of diabetes in the Adventist Health Study-2. NMCD 2013, 23, 292–299.
Malik, V.S.L.; Tobias, D.K.; Pan, A.; Hu, F.B. Dietary protein intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in U.S. men and women. Diabetes 2015, 64, A424.
Aune, D.; Ursin, G.; Veierod, M.B. Meat consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Diabetologia 2009, 52, 2277–2287.
Pan, A.; Sun, Q.; Bernstein, A.M.; Schulze, M.B.; Manson, J.E.;Willett,W.C.; Hu, F.B. Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2011, 94, 1088–1096.
Puntarulo, S. Iron, oxidative stress and human health. Mol. Asp. Med. 2005, 26, 299–312.
Rajpathak, S.N.; Crandall, J.P.; Wylie-Rosett, J.; Kabat, G.C.; Rohan, T.E.; Hu, F.B. The role of iron in type 2 diabetes in humans. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 2009, 1790, 671–681
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Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.