Are there benefits of a plant-based diet for diabetes management?
Ask Dana: Simple Solutions to your Diabetes Dilemmas
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
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.
Dana is a Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist and Registered Dietitian. She holds certifications in insulin pump therapy and obesity interventions for adults. Dana received a Master’s in Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago after receiving a Bachelor’s in Science with Honors at the University of Texas at Austin. After college, Dana served as an AmeriCorp volunteer on a variety of health education initiatives and played a key role in establishing the first school-based health clinic in the city of Chicago.