Impact of plant intake on Diabetes Management – My n=1
I love a good challenge. I love it even more when it is something that really resonates with what I believe for overall health benefit.
I try hard to stay up on current health trends but also look at data that supports whether it works long-term for health impact and sustainability in lifestyle. Most people find they can follow a “diet” for a while but end up either with results they want and a desire to go back to old habits assuming the results will last. Or people give up as results weren’t fast enough and they wanted a quick fix.
All the fueling plans that are defined (Paleo, keto, low carb, Whole30, etc.) tend to have results that prove them worthy. They will help you lose weight or do better with glucose levels, etc. The biggest thing that I have found in different plans over the years is that they tend to cut out something that is deemed “the problem” food. The reason that many people don’t last on these plans is because what they are giving up is hard to swallow forever. The fueling plans will work, but you must stick with the rules long-term.
Thus, my recent course to keep up with continuing education hours to maintain my credentials, led me to complete an online course with the book “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger. While the title of the book makes you think it provides the fountain of youth, it really is driving home the right information to show how well you can live into older age without as many health issues that start to decrease the quality of life despite living a longer number of years.
I saw him speak at a conference about 5 years ago and loved his simple message at that time which was backed by study after study on the benefits of eating lots of plants – specifically vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, and spices. Another favorite author of mine – Michael Pollan (funny they are both named Michael!) gives a similar message – “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
This coincided with an article our wonderful IDS Director of Group Education, Kristen, wrote for our newsletter last month. She works with people with type 2 diabetes in the Philadelphia area, and she wrote an article about a new fueling plan challenge – the 800g Challenge. The information in my course and this 800g challenge really came together nicely in a way that I had to give it a try by ramping up my intake from what I thought was already pretty good.
A quick reference to this simple 800g Challenge is that it doesn’t take food away, but simply asks you to eat a minimum of 800g (weight, not grams of carb) of vegetables and fruits daily. In an easy-to-visualize way, this is about 6 cups of veggies and fruit each day. (Take a peek at Kristen’s article or check out the info at the 800g Challenge website).
Dr. Greger’s book takes an even deeper dive into all that the plant world provides and even goes further down the rabbit hole of information with research studies proving specific plants – veggies and fruits, nuts, and seeds as well as spices, provide as much benefit, OR better, than some medications on the market that essentially put a Band-Aid on a health issue rather than solving it from the root of the problem.
I looked at what my typical intake of fruits and veggies came to prior to starting this adjustment. I was doing well overall and added up to about 600g most days. I then took a look at what Dr. Greger discusses and lists as his “Daily Dozen” of what to eat in a day – including fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds and spices as well as exercise and beverages. His plan breaks fruits and veggies down further into the types that provide the biggest bang in nutrition quality. Greens and cruciferous veggies as well as general fruit and berries – his plan covers about 6 cups of these as well. I combined the 2 plans to evaluate how things would work out.
In the past month, I have noticed some things that are not really diabetes-specific but do impact management as well as some things that are very specific in terms of my own (n=1) diabetes management.
- I sleep better – perhaps some of the things I learned in the book are being put to good use in the time before I go to bed, or maybe I’m a bit more satisfied from dinner?
- I have lost 2 lbs. – I didn’t plan to, and I don’t need to lose weight but have dropped weight while adding more plants to my daily plan. Looking at my intake, the increase in veggies has displaced other carbs that took more insulin to cover and required a larger portion to feel satisfied.
- I don’t crave the dark chocolate that I love. While I haven’t given it up, and it is really dark chocolate – 98%, I feel satisfied with the serving I choose to eat rather than kind of wanting more prior to making this shift.
- Eating so many plants is very filling. They take up more space and since they are lower GI and lower in carbs, I take less insulin to cover their impact
- My cravings around my monthly cycle were not dramatic and I didn’t get the typical bloating that is normal for me just before my cycle starts.
- Insulin needs were lower, and sensitivity improved. Potentially focusing more on portions of veggies and fruits is what helped here. Instead of grabbing a handful or 2 of nuts, as a snack, I aimed for the veggies first. (Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen calls for nuts, but only a ¼ cup per day or a serving of nut butter). I started using more vinegar and lemon or lime with herbs and adding avocado, as well as cutting back a bit on oil.
- My average glucose dropped, and I averaged 87% in target (my target is 70-140, with goal of not sitting at 140, but coasting back to the 70-110 range after meals) which was a 5% improvement from the month before.
- My Standard deviation improved/dropped.
- Since I use Loop, I don’t have a lot of issues with low BGs, so my % of time with anything low didn’t change.
- I found a lot of great new recipes to use, and this has helped me plan a bit better for the wonderful season of fresh produce we are entering.
In general, while this has been my experience, I do know a lot of people struggle with what to eat and what is right for health management, weight management and optimizing glucose control. Sometimes, simple is a bit better and the simple fact of this plan is that you just have to eat up to a certain quantity of veggies and fruits in a day. In doing so, you will likely find a level of satiety that helps you cut back in other areas and reach some of the goals you thought might be out of reach. In the long term what you add with quality vegetables/greens and fruits will serve your body well in terms of preventing other health conditions too.
There is always room for more veggies on a plate, so challenge yourself to eat more and go to a local farmer’s market to look for something new in this growing season ahead!
Yes, life with diabetes requires a lot of patience for many reasons. Learning when to act and when to remember to wait can take time to figure out. If you feel like you need some assistance with figuring out where your management needs some patience give Integrated Diabetes Services a call – we have all had to learn to navigate when to wait and when to act in our lives with diabetes.
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