When it comes to type 2 diabetes — both prevention and treatment — diet plays a major role. Yes, there are a handful of other factors such as exercise, family history, genetics, and age, yet when it comes to tackling prediabetes and managing type 2 diabetes, diet is a great place to start. Specifically, switching to a plant-based diet! A recent study at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that “approximately 22 percent of people diagnosed with prediabetes are able to prevent it from progressing to type 2 diabetes” and the crucial factor depends on bringing blood sugar levels back to healthier ranges.
While a diet that is rich in processed foods contributes to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes — processed foods contain dangerous elements such as added sugars, refined grains, large amounts of starches, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and preservatives — a plant-based diet generally relies on whole-foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds. These unadulterated foods not only help level out your blood sugar, but they’re also free of other type 2 diabetes-causing agents.
Let’s take a bit of a deeper diver into the relationship between a plant-based diet and type 2 diabetes!
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Many people simply refer to diabetes as … well … diabetes, but there are actually two different forms of diabetes that are drastically different, yet both involve insulin.
First off, what’s insulin?
Insulin is a “hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use.” This hormone is also crucial in regulating your blood sugar levels, particularly keeping them “from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).”
Alright, so what’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes — also called “insulin-dependent diabetes” — is a “chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin.” Unfortunately, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, but can be very successfully treated through “managing blood sugar levels with insulin, diet, and lifestyle.”
Type 2 diabetes is also a “chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes sugar (glucose).” When it comes to type 2 diabetes, it’s not necessarily a deficiency in the creation of insulin due to the pancreas (even though this can be one of the causes), but instead its more about “your body either [resisting] the effects of insulin … or [not producing] enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels.”
Causes of Type 2 Diabetes
There’s still so much to learn about diabetes that researchers still aren’t exactly sure what causes type 2 diabetes. With that said, there is a direct link between an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and “genetics and environmental factors, such as being overweight and inactive.”
So far, researchers have determined some of the top factors associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes which includes weight, fat distribution, — “if you store fat mainly in the abdomen, you have a greater risk of type 2 diabetes than if you store fat elsewhere” — inactivity, family history, age, and prediabetes. While some of these can’t be changed — such as family history, genetics, and age — other factors absolutely can be controlled such as weight and activity.
When learning about type 2 diabetes, it’s probably a good idea to get a little knowledge about prediabetes as well. This is generally the first step towards becoming fully diabetic, yet it means you’re still in a stage where diet and lifestyle changes can help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Prediabetes simply means that “you have a higher than normal blood sugar level.” For those diagnosed with prediabetes, this is the time act! The big factors that play roles in bringing those blood sugar levels back down are diet and physical activity.
How a Plant-Based Diet Can Prevent and/or Manage Type 2 Diabetes
When it comes to preventing and managing type 2 diabetes, turns out a plant-based diet can be a very effective weapon! Multiple health studies have found that switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet that cuts out processed and refined products actually decreases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes An article produced by the Division of General Internal Medicine at New York University School of Medicine entitled A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes, deduced from both cohort and observational studies that:
“Plant-based diets―i.e., eating patterns that emphasize legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds and discourage most or all animal products―are especially potent in preventing type 2 diabetes and have been associated with much lower rates of obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular mortality, and cancer.”
In particular, the review cited a study performed by Adventist Health in which 61,000 individuals took part. In these 61,000 individuals, it was found that the “prevalence of type 2 diabetes decreased … with each reduction in animal products in the diet: from 7.6% in non-vegetarians, 6.1% in semi-vegetarians, 4.8% in pesco-vegetarians, 3.2% in lacto-ovo vegetarians, to 2.9% in vegans.”
While plant-based diets focus on lots of nutrient-dense foods, they also somewhat naturally cut out many processed products. This was seen as one of the most impactful benefits “of a plant-based diet on the prevention of type 2 diabetes.” Non-plant-based foods generally have a more powerful and negative effect on blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, therefore removing these ingredients provided immediate relief. On top of that, plant-based diets are also effective at managing a healthy weight, which reduces the risk of being overweight, obese, or collecting dangerous adipose or visceral fat that can lead to the increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
8 Superfoods for Diabetes
Oftentimes, you’ll see a recommended diet of “whole” or “real” foods, yet what does this actually mean? We get that this includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, pseudograins, and whole grains, but when it comes to preventing or managing type 2 diabetes, there are actually a few very specific food categories and specific foods that are designated as “diabetes superfoods.”
1. Non-Starchy Vegetables
For the most part, if you fill your plate with veggies you’re absolutely on the right track! With that said, when it comes to type 2 diabetes, not all vegetables are created equal. It’s actually recommended to focus your sights on non-starchy vegetables, which have fewer carbs, yet are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. These types of veggies also are great at fulfilling satiety.
What’s a non-starchy veggie? Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, and beets are all great options to start out with! Try out a couple of these non-starchy veggie-based recipes: Tarragon Roasted Asparagus, Cream of Asparagus Soup, Healthy Artichoke Dip, Sesame Roasted Beets and Greens, Salt-Cured Beet Carpaccio, Artichokes Provencal, or this Broccoli and Portobello ‘Beef’.
There are a plethora of tomato varieties to choose from when you’re seeking the perfect tomato for your kitchen! And, based on the variety, you can use these in salads, stir-fries, to thicken soups, or simply on a sandwich. They make the diabetes superfood list due to the fact that they “are full of lycopene,” which is a “powerful substance that may reduce the risk of cancer (especially prostate cancer), heart disease, and macular degeneration.” Tomatoes are also a “non-starchy fruit,” which means they have a lower glycemic (GI) index ranking, which means they won’t affect blood sugar as drastically as other starchy, high GI fruits.
Tomatoes are incredibly diverse in the kitchen! Try a few of these creative recipes: Raw Ketchup, Black Beans with Corn and Tomato Relish, Tomato and Mushroom Tortellini Soup, or these Perfect Breakfast Bagels with Tomato and Basil.
When you think of a diabetes diet, you may think that sweets are a thing of the past. Yes, processed, refined, and added sugar should all be completely avoided. Natural sugar that’s packed neatly beside dietary fiber, vitamin, minerals, and antioxidants is actually a great addition to a type 2 diabetes-friendly diet! In fact, berries make the diabetes superfood list! Along with being lower on the glycemic index, berries are known to be antioxidant powerhouses — meaning they “have some of the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit or vegetable” — and this has been linked to a possible reduced “risk of heart disease and cancer,” as well as increased eye health due to the high content of vitamin C. On top of that, berries have anti-inflammatory properties.
When integrating berries into a type 2 diabetes-friendly diet focus on the staples: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Berries are an excellent supplement for sugar in healthy baking and dessert recipes! Just because you cut out the refined sugar doesn’t mean you can’t have a delicious, indulgent, and luxurious treat. Try a few of these berry-based recipes: Berry Cocktail, 3-Ingredient Berry Cereal, Summer Berry Cake, Baked Berry Oatmeal, Probiotic Berry Smoothie, or this Strawberry Pie With Chocolate Drizzle.
4. Citrus Fruits
Citrus is always a tricky one depending on your specific sensitivities. For instance, many people who suffer from heartburn, acid reflux disease, or even the advanced stage of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), generally steer clear of citrus fruits. With that said, when it comes to a diabetes-friendly diet, this category of fruits is an excellent addition. Specifically, oranges and grapefruit! The juice and the pulp from both oranges and grapefruit “provide a great source of fiber,” so make sure to indulge yourself on the entire fruit instead of just juicing. The juice alone is rich in natural sugars, which can cause unwanted, drastic changes in your blood sugar. Therefore you need to make sure to incorporate the whole fruit — pulp and juice! — in order to balance out the sugar with digestive slowing fiber, vitamins, and minerals!
Try a few of these whole-fruit recipes: Orange Jam, Grapefruit Cardamom Oatmeal, Orange and Fennel Arugula Salad, or this Breakfast Bowl With Oats, Pistachios, and Grapefruit.
These delicate little treats are not only an excellent plant-based ingredient to give that banana bread a bit of soft crunch or add a bit of meatiness to that salad, but they’re also loaded with diabetes-friendly nutrients! Walnuts are rich in “alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that boosts heart health and lowers cholesterol,” as well as “vitamin E, folic acid, zinc, and protein.” On top of that, they are also rich in other healthy fats — such as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and a bit of saturated — which can help to curb hunger, prevent overeating, and maintain a healthy weight. It’s also been found that by “substituting nuts and other healthy fats for carbs [you] can help lower blood sugar.”
Try out a few of these walnut-rich recipes: Spinach Crepes with Thyme Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Walnut Sauce, Potato Salad With Caramelized Onions and Walnuts, Fall Superfood Detox Salad, or this super simple Walnut Bread.
6. Flax Seeds
Flax seeds follow the same diabetes-friendly guidelines as nuts! They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fat while being low in carbs and low on the glycemic index. This means, if you’re not a nut fan, you can use seeds instead of nuts to substitute for carbs in order to fill your tummy without affecting your blood sugar too much. In particular, flax seeds are incredibly rich in “magnesium, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids,” all of which are excellent nutrients for a type 2 diabetes-friendly diet.
Flax seeds are one of those ingredients that don’t necessarily take center stage, yet are incredibly crucial to vegan cooking. For instance, they are great egg replacers — simply mix water with some ground flaxseed — and they can also be used as baking binders. Here are a couple of flax seed recipes to give a try: Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Wholegrain Flaxseed and Sesame Crackers, Superfood Biscotti, Spiced Apple Pie Mini Loaves, or this Lentil Loaf with Tomato Glaze.
Unless you have specific digestive issues, leafy greens are pretty much standard fare for any plant-based diet that is worth its weight. While you can go in circles with spinach, mustard greens, chard, and other leafy greens, if you’re looking for the ultimate diabetes champion green then look no further than kale. Kale has “more than 100 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and K” and it also contains “chemicals called glucosinolates that help neutralize cancer-causing substances.” On top of that, kale is “full of potassium and has been shown to help manage blood pressure.” Combine all of these factors and you’ve got a perfect type 2 diabetes-friendly ingredient to add to your superfood list!
Yes, kale is great in salads, but it’s also a hardy leaf that can be used in a variety of other ways! Here are a few kale recipes to get the creative juices flowing: Superfood Kale Salad, Spicy Kale Chips, Kale Stem Pesto, or this Curried Kidney Bean Stew.
8. Whole Grains
When it comes to incorporating grains into a diabetes-friendly diet, it’s important to choose wisely. Most whole grains are “full of antioxidants and soluble and insoluble fiber,” which are known to “metabolize fats and keep the digestive track healthy.” Yet, it’s important to eat whole grains moderately, mixed in with your other diabetes superfoods, and choose the most powerful for the best nutrient punch.
Which whole grains are the best for a diabetes-friendly diet? Focus on hulled barley, lentils, and if you want to go with whole wheat try and find one that is 100 percent stone-ground. Here are a few recipes to get you started on those whole grains: Mushroom Pearl Barley Risotto, One Pot Lentil Stew, Lentil Loaf, or this basic Whole Wheat Bread.
Looking to get more knowledge on the effects of a plant-based diet on type 2 diabetes? Luckily, One Green Planet has you covered from top to bottom! Take a gander at some of these robust articles to learn more about how a plant-based diet can help you manage or even prevent type 2 diabetes.
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
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