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Ask Dana:  Simple Solutions to your Diabetes Dilemmas

plant based diet


Dear Dana,

With the beginning of the new year and my quest for better health, I have been reading a lot about plant-based diets. It seems to be all over social media and the internet. Is there really benefit of a plant-based diet for my health? And, would there be additional benefit for my diabetes management, too?
– Tom Shelby, St. Paul, Minnesota


Dear Tom,

Congrats on your quest for better health in 2021! Plant-based diets are getting a lot of attention in the media recently.  First, let’s define what a “plant-based diet” is.

What is a “plant-based” diet?

A plant-based diet is primarily from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and legumes. But following a plant-based diet does not necessarily mean you are a vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy products again.  A plant-based diet is simply a diet proportionately slanted towards more plant-based foods.  There has been a lot of nutritional research showing plant-based diets — like the Mediterranean diet or vegetarian diet — can reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.  As for diabetes management, a plant-based diet (that is high in fiber and low in the glycemic index) has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and can improve post-meal blood sugar spikes.

As mentioned, a plant-based diet does not need to be a vegan or even a vegetarian diet.  Simply increasing plant-based foods and limiting animal protein can provide health benefits.  A recently published study in the British Medical Journal by Al-Shaar, et. al. found that there was a 15% reduction of heart disease risk in individuals who substituted some of their red meat consumption with plant protein intake.  This 30-year study highlighted that animal protein doesn’t need to be eliminated from your diet, but there are significant benefits to a reduction of animal protein intake.  For example, by filling half of your plate with vegetables at meals or using animal protein as a garnish at a meal instead of the centerpiece, you will gain health benefits.

However, while following a plant-based diet can increase your health, it must be done correctly to include all the essential proteins, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals needed for optimum health.  There are many plant-based foods that are high in sugar, high in the glycemic index and low in nutrition.  White bread, processed food and sugary snacks can all be plant-based but not ideal for health.  A Registered Dietitian at Integrated Diabetes Services can help guide you towards a healthy and balanced plant-based diet.

With small and simple adjustments, you too can gain health benefits and improve diabetes management.

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