A Plant-Based Diet Can Reduce Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes, If You Do It Correctly

Health + Wellness

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.

Getting Started

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.

Ginger Vieira is an expert patient living with type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and fibromyalgia. Find her diabetes books on Amazon, and connect with her on Twitter and YouTube.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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"The temperature of the Gulf of Maine is creating the right conditions for lobster, so it's helped our industry—and it's been a big boost for the Maine economy," Porter, the current president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said. "But you never know what lies ahead. If it continues to warm, it may end up going the other way."

The Gulf of Maine is setting frequent temperature records and warming faster overall than 99 percent of the world's oceans, due in large part to climate change. Meanwhile, its lobster population skyrocketed by 515 percent between 1984 and 2014. In 1990, for example, lobster landings in Maine totaled 28 million pounds. Ten years later that figure was up to 57 million pounds. And in every year since 2011, the take has exceeded 100 million pounds, peaking at 132.6 million pounds in 2016 and turning lobster into a half-billion-dollar industry for the state.

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"Temperature is a big part of the story here," said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and a coauthor of the study. "Lobster is likely to decline, and that's obviously more worrisome in the North, where it has been booming."

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Marine scientist Susie Arnold of the Rockland, Maine–based Island Institute notes that rising temperatures have also contributed to a decline in other fisheries like shrimp, cod and scallops, leaving fishermen in Maine precariously dependent on the thriving lobster populations. "A lot of fishermen in coastal communities in Maine are relying on just one fishery, and as we're seeing the impacts of climate change, that definitely gets people worried," she said. In response, Arnold and her colleagues are encouraging fishermen to think about diversification opportunities like aquaculture. "We're trying to help coastal communities maintain their cultural heritage, and a large part of that has to do with making a living off a healthy marine ecosystem."

State lawmakers, too, are taking note of the warming trend and rising up in support of climate action. Maine Governor Janet Mills cited concerns about climate change impacting the lobster industry in her February announcement that the state would join the U.S. Climate Alliance. She has also linked the recent creation of a Maine Climate Council and ambitious statewide renewable energy goals to the health of local fisheries. (Mills recently signed several climate bills into law that will help the state transition to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.)

Such a head-on response to the impacts of climate change facing Maine offers a much-needed boost to the future of both lobsters and the coastal communities that rely on the fishery. Meanwhile, the iconic sea creatures have already benefited from generations of conservation efforts, as noted by Pershing and his fellow researchers. In addition to heeding minimum and maximum catch size limits, fishers must refrain from taking any egg-bearing female lobsters. Instead, when they catch these breeders, they clip their tails with a "V notch,"—a mark that will stay with a lobster through several molts—then release them. (The clipped tail signals to other fisherman who may encounter the same lobsters that they are off-limits.)

Porter and other fisherman liken this investment in the future of the industry to putting money in the bank. And marine scientists, including NRDC's Lisa Suatoni, call it smart climate policy. "Leaving these large, fecund females in the water is a really good idea in the context of a rapidly changing environment," Suatoni said. "It isn't just fixated on how to get maximum sustainable yield but also expanding our objective to also get increased ecological or evolutionary resilience."

The decline of the lobster industry in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where waters are warmer and regulations less stringent than in Maine, serves as a cautionary tale for their northern neighbor. Landings in southern New England shrank by as much as 70 percent from 1997 to 2007, but the industry has resisted many conservation measures, and again rejected fishing restrictions brought to the table by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2017.

The proposed restrictions would have changed the legal harvesting size and reduced the number of traps allowed per fisherman, among other regulation changes. Had Maine followed the same lax approach, Pershing and his colleagues estimate that lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine would have increased by less than half as much as it did during their 30-year study period.

While Pershing praises Maine's forward-looking approach for boosting the resilience of its lobster industry in the face of the growing climate crisis, "there's a limit to how much we can adapt and how much we can manage around it," he said. "When you look beyond 2050 in a high-CO2 world, it's a scenario where fisheries are really challenged no matter where you look in the country. We have to figure out how to avoid that because everything gets so much more difficult in that world—and we can make that case in a really concrete way with some of the fishery models."

Pershing says that climate change is having impacts up and down the food chain in the Gulf of Maine. For example, a sharp decline in a species of tiny copepod — a shrimp-like creature that is a favorite food of herring, seabirds and endangered right whales — is putting further stress on these creatures.

"These aren't just faraway changes that are happening in the ocean where nobody really sees them," Pershing said. "There are real consequences for the Gulf of Maine and the communities that live on the coast."

Nicole Greenfield is a writer at NRDC whose articles on religion, the environment, popular culture and social justice have appeared in many publications.

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As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.

Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."

The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.


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