A Plant-Based Diet Can Reduce Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes, If You Do It Correctly
By Ginger Vieira
Type 2 diabetes is far more complicated than simply having eaten too much sugar.
However, preventing the escalation of prediabetes into type 2 diabetes can be simpler for some.
Approximately 22 percent of people diagnosed with prediabetes are able to prevent it from progressing to type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study from the Aging Research Center at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
Research (Trusted Source) published this week concluded that one of the most crucial factors in preventing type 2 diabetes and bringing blood sugars back into a healthier range comes down to embracing a plant-based diet.
"Plant-based dietary patterns, especially when they are enriched with healthful plant-based foods, may be beneficial for the primary prevention of type 2 diabetes," explained the report.
"Plant-based" is a trendy term these days — and often implies veganism — but in this context, the focus of a plant-based diet is on eating mostly "real" food, including some animal protein and carbohydrates.
Processed Foods vs. Plant-Based Diet
The most immediate benefit of a plant-based diet on the prevention of type 2 diabetes is the impact that non-plant-based foods have on blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.
However, research suggests the impact is actually broader.
"Plant-based diets may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes through lowering the risk of excess weight gain," the researchers noted.
"Multiple interventional and observational studies have indicated that increased consumption of plant-based foods can lead to short-term weight loss or prevention of long-term weight gain," explained the researchers. "In turn, it is likely that a considerable proportion of the protective association between plant-based diets and risk of type 2 diabetes can be attributable to weight control."
Experts in diabetes care and prevention agree.
"What if we had a world without processed food in it?" said Mara Schwartz, CDE, RN, a coordinator of the Diabetes Prevention Program at Self Regional Healthcare in Greenwood, South Carolina. "We wouldn't have the weight problems we have now if it weren't for processed food. It would be very difficult to become obese while eating a whole-food, plant-based diet."
Indulging in a bag of chips and a milkshake is a lot easier than eating a bowl of homemade whipped cream with fresh blueberries and strawberries.
In Schwartz's work, she has seen the difference in outcomes when a client commits to changing their nutrition habits.
"People truly have to understand that what they put in their mouth affects their health," Schwartz, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for decades, told Healthline. "You're gonna have to commit to yourselves and acknowledge that your current diet is hurting you."
The recent research recommends focusing on a plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
"Moreover, refined grains, starches, and sugars can also be characterized as plant-based, although they are independently associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes," the researchers said.
The study also found a "protective" association against the development of type 2 diabetes when people consumed higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants through plant foods and lower amounts of red meats and processed meats.
The study doesn't advise against eating healthier animal products, such as organic eggs, and lean proteins, like chicken, turkey, and pork.
It Isn’t Just Insulin Resistance
The short-term and long-term effects of an unhealthy diet actually create a more serious problem with metabolism, cravings, and relationship with food.
Schwartz points to Susan Peirce Thompson, author of the book, "Bright Line Eating," who explained the destructive cycle that junk-quality food has on several aspects of the hormones related to our cravings and body weight.
"By eating the wrong foods, we increase our insulin levels," said Schwartz. "Increased insulin levels actually block the production of leptin."
Leptin is a lesser-discussed but crucial part of managing your appetite. It's a hormone produced by your body's fat cells and your small intestines. Its primary role is to regulate your appetite by signaling to your brain that you're full.
When a person develops "leptin resistance" from excessive amounts of leptin in their system along with insulin resistance, your brain thinks you're starving, creating an insatiable type of hunger that leads to mindless eating, craving junk food, and eating more processed carbohydrates.
Reversing this starts with making major changes in your diet by reducing heavily processed, packaged foods and focusing every meal on whole foods.
Transitioning to a plant-based diet doesn't require a costly diet program, buying "diet" products, or learning how to cook a variety of time-intensive, complicated meals.
Instead, start with a look at the nutrition labels on the packages of the processed foods you currently eat.
"If you can't pronounce half of the things on the list of ingredients, you shouldn't be eating it," advised Schwartz. "If you were cooking a meal with whole foods, you wouldn't go to the store and also buy common additives like Yellow 5 or sodium benzoate or carrageenan to put into that meal."
Processed foods, reminded Schwartz, were made for convenience and for profit, but few are actually healthy. Just because a box of cookies is labeled as organic doesn't mean it's not still a processed, packaged item void of any valuable nutrition.
Schwartz also cautions against filling your diet with vegan "plant-based" products such as frozen vegan meats.
"Sometimes when people follow a vegan diet, they're eating a lot of processed foods that are no better for you than a greasy burger. Just because something is vegan doesn't mean it's automatically healthy if it's loaded with highly processed ingredients like soy protein isolate, and a slew of preservatives, added flavors, chemicals, and tons of sodium," she said.
And it's important not to fall for advertising phrases such as "whole-grain" or "low-fat" on the packaging.
"Even a whole-wheat pasta is heavily processed. If it was truly whole wheat, you'd see chunks of actual wheat in there — and you don't because it's been broken down through processing, combined with a variety of additives, and packaged to make you think it's a whole food," Schwartz explained.
A low-fat, whole-wheat English muffin, for example, is still a heavily processed product that offers little to no original vitamins, minerals, or quality nutrition. It's made of processed flour and more than a dozen additives to make it taste good.
But what should you eat instead?
This Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
"It doesn't take that much more time to make something that's not processed. You can buy riced cauliflower and spiralized zucchini noodles ready-to-go at the store these days," said Schwartz.
Breakfast could be eggs, berries, and a serving of whole oats, or a lower-carb option of almonds.
Lunch could be a giant bowl of greens with a serving of black beans, cucumber, chicken, and a careful serving of your favorite salad dressing.
You can make simple swaps for high-starch or highly processed grains, for example, including wild rice instead of white rice and farro or quinoa instead of pasta.
Sweet potato or brown rice may be high in carbohydrates — something to be careful about as a person with diabetes, since carbohydrates are the first macronutrient with the biggest impact on blood sugar levels — but they'll still offer far more nutrition and less of a blood sugar spike compared to processed bread and pasta.
If you do still want some pasta, Schwartz suggests quickly sautéing a variety of vegetables and then adding a small amount of pasta to the plate. Even though the goal is to focus on eating more vegetables, that doesn't mean it has to be entirely vegetables.
"It's very hard to overeat a healthy meal because the fiber from the vegetables is so filling," she said.
And the vegetables don't have to always have been freshly diced — a simple bag of frozen microwave vegetables is still better for you than a bag of chips.
What About Carbohydrates?
Typically, when you significantly reduce or remove animal products from your diet, you inevitably increase the amount of carbohydrate you're eating in order to still consume adequate calories.
For those with diabetes, even the American Diabetes Association has reversed its stance on low-carbohydrate diets as a tool for improving blood sugar levels. The organization now recommends a lower-carb approach.
Schwartz avoids carbohydrates in her personal diabetes nutrition management because she feels eating them simply leads her to crave more carbs, never feeling fully satisfied.
Other experts in diabetes care agree that a plant-based diet that includes too many servings of carbohydrates isn't the best option.
"I do not feel grains are a healthy choice for a diabetic," Ryan Attar, ND, MS, who lives with type 1 diabetes and has devoted his healthcare work at the Connecticut Integrative Medical Center to helping the diabetes population.
"What do grains offer our bodies? Very energy-dense, carbohydrate-dense foods, which have very little nutrient value. The amount of nutrients in grains are so low that by law grains must be fortified," Attar told Healthline.
Attar compared grains in general to a long chain of glucose molecules paired with a list of synthetic vitamins added to it.
He also argued that choosing brown rice over white won't have a big impact on how significantly it spikes your blood sugar.
"The amount of increased fiber and nutrients in whole grains is very small. Take a look at white versus brown rice. Both have the same amount of carbohydrates, 45 grams in 1 cup. The brown rice has 3 grams more fiber than white rice. Leaving you 41.5 grams of starchy carbohydrate versus 44.4 in white rice," he said.
Attar suggests nixing grains from your diet completely but still striving to eat a diet largely focused on plants.
"Get those nutrients from eating more non-starchy leafy greens instead," he said.
Blurry Lines of a ‘Healthy’ Diet
A plate full of plant-based food can still contribute to being overweight and higher blood sugar levels if you're not being mindful about how much you're eating.
"Portions do matter, no matter what you're eating," said Schwartz. "If you're eating a 12-ounce steak with three cups of mashed potatoes and a huge wallop of blue cheese dressing on your side salad, you're overdoing it."
Instead, cut the steak in half, swap the potatoes — or at least most of the potatoes — for greens. Keep the dressing on the side to dip your fork into instead of covering the salad with it.
"Eating something in moderation is also a very vague plan," said Schwartz, who often sees her clients struggle with using this common terminology to include less-than-healthy items in their diet too frequently.
Committing to a Plant-Based Diet
"The difference between the patients who succeed in improving their blood sugars and the patients who don't often comes down to a willingness to commit and make changes," said Schwartz.
"There's always an excuse if you let yourself make one for choosing junky processed food over real food. I've had a stressful day. I was hungry and the cafeteria was closed. I was at a party. I didn't say no to cake because I might offend someone. It's too expensive to eat healthy."
If you can afford cigarettes, Netflix, or fast food, you can afford healthier food.
"You learn how to eat from how you were raised, but you can change those habits, too. Take more ownership over the fact that you do have control over what you put in your mouth," said Schwartz.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
After decades on the political periphery, the climate movement is entering the mainstream in 2020, with young leaders at the fore. The Sunrise Movement now includes more than 400 local groups educating and advocating for political action on climate change. Countless students around the world have clearly communicated what's at stake for their futures, notably Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who just finished her yearlong school strike for climate. Youth activists have been praised for their flexible, big-picture thinking and ability to harness social media to deliver political wins, as Sunrise recently did for U.S. Sen. Ed Markey's primary campaign. They necessarily challenge the status quo.
A Convergence of Issues<p>The unequal impacts of a changing climate have become extremely clear in 2020, so equity has come to the fore of climate conversations in every corner of the country. A global deadly pandemic continues to rage out of control in the U.S., heat waves are setting new temperature records, wildfires are scorching American Western states, and the hurricane season has already made it to the end of the alphabet for naming storms. In all cases, low-income, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities are bearing a disproportionate amount of the impacts.</p><p>"Today, the scab is off, the ugly reality of injustice is hitting us up close and personal, made more realistic by this COVID pandemic," Bullard says.</p><p>This year the decidedly youthful focus on intersectionality is a big part of what defines the transformation of the climate movement. Climate is not just an environmental issue, according to youth activists. It's also a racial justice issue, an economic issue, and an access-to-health care issue.</p><p>"Environmental justice is really seeing the intersection of these issues," says Alex Rodriguez, a community organizer with the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, which aims to make environmental issues a priority for the state's elected leaders. The group is now focusing their efforts on the coming election and recently succeeded in persuading the state to allow absentee voting in November. "We want people to be safe when casting their vote," says Rodriguez, 26, whose fellow grassroots committee members range from age 16 to 60.</p><p>Rodriguez, who also serves on the equity and environmental justice working group for the Governor's Council on Climate Change, says, "We see our programmatic work as a way to help lawmakers see what they can do to improve the dignity of those suffering from environmental racism, systematic racism, and economic oppression."</p><p>Seeing the overlap and bringing these issues together is a strength that Bullard says was missing from the civil rights organizing he was involved with in the 1960s. He says 2020 is unique in many ways.</p><p>"The number of marchers is unprecedented, from different economic, ethnic, and racial groups—an awakening unlike any that I've seen on this Earth in over 70 years," Bullard says. "Today, the different movements are converging, and I think that convergence makes for greater potential for success."</p>
Young and Old<p>But young people are one essential demographic among many when it comes to climate action. With all that's on the line for climate in the coming elections, up and down the ballot, collaboration becomes key. Bullard says previous generations of climate activists can now play the critical role of mentoring, assisting, and supporting. Standing with, not in front of, youth.</p><p>"Youth are leading us and taking on frontline activity," says Jayce Chiblow, the community engagement lead for Indigenous Climate Action, a Canadian organization that works for Indigenous-led climate justice solutions. But in doing so, she says many young Indigenous activists are experiencing the trauma of violence, getting arrested, and being taken away from their land. "All of our older people are supporting those youth: Elders, mentors, people trained in nonviolent action," Chiblow says. "The youth aren't alone."</p><p>That support can go a long way. "There's a lot of anger and a lot of fear, and that's understandable," says Wazer of Sunrise Connecticut. "I definitely feel those things, too, just considering the ways that our future has been threatened and kind of trashed by older generations."</p><p>Under the Trump administration, the number of environmental rollbacks alone can be disheartening, not to mention new <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/video/arctic-national-wildlife-refuge/" target="_blank">drilling permits in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge going up for auction</a>.</p><p>Wazer is frank about the risks of burnout, depression, and anxiety from the stress of it all, but draws inspiration from the example of the late U.S. representative and lifelong civil rights activist John Lewis. "That forgiveness and that ability to keep fighting and stay motivated … I think that that is something really powerful to learn from older generations."</p><p>An intergenerational approach can leverage the individual strengths of youth and older people in all their diversity.</p><p>"The elders hold our stories," says Chiblow, who is Anishinaabe from Garden River First Nation, Ontario. Those stories include lived experiences, culture, history, and generations of adapting to changes in climate. Such collective experience continues to inform Indigenous knowledge and connections to the land, as well as how people manage and govern themselves in relation to it. This knowledge is passed on through relationship-building and storytelling.</p><p>"Every time you hear that story, you're at a different point in your life, and you'll pick up something else … something new," Chiblow says.</p><p>Changes in perspectives that come with time and experience are among the reasons why intergenerational learning and coalitions are critical to the climate movement. To combine that living and learning is to expand the reach and meaning of the message exponentially. As part of her research for her master's degree, Chiblow brought together youth, community leaders, and knowledge keepers in her community to workshop climate action. "Those relationships are vital to keep that movement going," Chiblow says.</p>
The Unique Value Proposition of Elders<p>Older activists bring unique strengths to the table, according to gerontologist Mick Smyer, who designs strategies to move people from anxiety to action on climate. He calls himself "the aging whisperer to climate groups" and "the climate whisperer to aging groups." He is quick to point out that the learning can go in both directions.</p><p>"I think older adults are untapped resources," Smyer says. "Older adults bring several resources, one of which is their circles of influence. Just by virtue of having lived longer, older adults are going to have denser and richer networks," Smyer says. "The second is, when it comes to voting and civic engagement, older adults, as an age group, outperform all other age groups."</p><p>He uses the 2016 presidential election to illustrate his point: "The older age groups, 70% of them voted. Nobody [else] came close." He is cautious about making sweeping statements about older people broadly, but he says that ageism is alive and well. And that can deter the kind of collaboration that would beget necessary progress on climate action.</p><p>As the twin global patterns of an aging population and a changing climate continue arm in arm, Smyer says a good place for starting this work is within one's family.</p><p>"We each have that power to use in our circles of influence, particularly in our families, and we don't realize it," Smyer says. Whether it's via Zoom or FaceTime or a phone call or a chat in the living room, Smyer says, family members have a superpower: They will listen to each other, and they'll at least start the conversation.</p><p> "Intergenerational collaboration around climate issues, particularly in this election season, starts at home, and then goes to the polling booth," he says.</p>
Speaking the Same Language<p>As an individual's network of family, friends, and connections becomes wider and more diverse, the more work will need to be done to have them all working toward the same goals. That is equally true for the climate movement at large.</p><p>In bridging the gaps among baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials, Bullard says, "Each generation will have some idiosyncrasy and uniqueness about it that another generation will not understand or comprehend."</p><p>If everybody in a group or institution is similar, then there's no need to explain a lot, Bullard says. There's usually a fair amount of shared knowledge and values. But the more diverse that group gets, in age, race, gender, or culture, he says, the greater the potential for making mistakes, stepping on people's culture, and causing pain. But the potential for learning also increases exponentially.</p><p>Chiblow says successful collaboration comes down to being able to speak in shared concepts. The term "justice," for example, is an English word that's hard to translate into the Anishinaabe language. Chiblow says that because her community sees itself as belonging to the land, and being part of the land, the Anishinaabe worldview, and therefore their understanding of justice, is necessarily more holistic than the mainstream.</p><p>"Indigenous people have been feeling [the effects of climate change] for so long," Chiblow says. Today, as wildfires rage across the West, the mantra of "I can't breathe" is being driven home on a grand scale. For better and worse, climate justice is finally a front-page story.</p><p>"It's affecting the broader society," Chiblow says. "We're finally at the turning point where we could start to make real change because … people are really starting to feel that urgency."</p><p>The urgency will be tantamount in the coming election. A lot is at stake, says Chiblow: "Incentives, funding, all-around agreement, and also the way we're able to manage our lands and ourselves as people."</p><p>Bullard, too, is insistent on urgency. "This election is one of the most important elections of a generation, because there's so many things at stake," he says. "We can't wait another 40 years on climate. We don't have that much time. We don't have 40 years to get justice."</p><p>Issues of climate justice will be on the ballot in state and local elections this fall, such as Nevada's proposed renewable energy standards and Louisiana's proposed disaster funding. And the topic has finally made it onto the national stage. Joe Biden called Trump a "climate arsonist" for not acting on or even admitting that the wildfires in California are clearly climate-related. The frequency and intensity of such disasters is indisputable.</p><p>"Hurricanes don't swerve to avoid red states or blue states. Wildfires don't skip towns that voted a certain way," Biden <a href="https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-address-west-coast-fires-confront-growing-threat/story?id=73000218" target="_blank">said in a speech on Sept. 14</a>. "The impacts of climate change don't pick and choose. That's because it's not a partisan phenomenon."</p><p>In many ways, the results of the upcoming elections will reflect the ways youth activists and older activists are able come to a common understanding of what climate justice means and what they want the future world to look like. </p><p>"There's a lot of knowledge built up in experience, and there's a lot of energy that's stored in young people," Bullard says. "When you put those two together, you have … an excellent recipe for potential success."</p>
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By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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