Diabetes – how to prevent and treat it through diet

| 27 November 2020
minute reading time
Diabetes diet

Diabetes type 2 is a serious health condition that can make your life miserable. The good news is, it’s preventable and, should you happen to have it already, it may be reversed through a lifestyle change.


What’s type 2 diabetes?

When we talk about diabetes, we usually mean type 2. It’s the most common form and mostly affects people carrying extra weight.

The big issue in diabetes is high blood sugar, the result of the body’s sugar metabolism – governed by the hormone insulin – failing. This has a knock-on effect on other systems in the body, increasing blood cholesterol and fat levels, potentially damaging the eyes, kidneys and nerve endings.

But sugar isn’t the culprit – it’s not healthy but it doesn’t cause type 2 diabetes. The problem lies elsewhere. When your metabolism can’t keep up with the amount and type of food eaten, droplets of fat are stored in your muscle and liver cells. If the amount of fat in your cells reaches a certain level, they stop being able to react to insulin correctly, leading to insulin resistance. Insulin should act as a key, opening the cell door to let in sugar but in this case, the lock is jammed. As a result, you have too much sugar in your blood and not enough in your cells and you feel tired.

Studies show that insulin resistance in muscles and the liver is strongly linked to fat storage in these tissues. If you are obese, this is more likely to happen but this type of fat doesn’t necessarily show so slim people aren’t immune.


Diet and diabetes

Countless studies have demonstrated that diets high in meat, fat and processed foods (Western style diets) cause the accumulation of fat droplets in your cells. On the other hand, wholefood, plant-based diets protect your health – vegans are 50 per cent less likely to develop diabetes, have more efficient blood sugar control and higher insulin sensitivity than any other dietary group.

In several clinical trials, type 2 diabetics were prescribed a combination of diet change and mild exercise. After three weeks, most were able to discontinue, or dramatically reduce, their medication.

The research is clear – a wholesome vegan diet is the best way of preventing and reversing type 2 diabetes. It helps to reduce fat stores in the cells, improves blood sugar control, reduces cholesterol, helps to induce weight loss without portion restriction, prevents kidney and nerve damage and helps to lower blood pressure.

A plant-based diet is a powerful tool for preventing, managing, and even reversing type 2 diabetes. Not only is this the most delicious ‘prescription’ you can imagine but it’s also easy to follow. Unlike other diets, there’s no calorie counting, no skimpy portions and no carb counting. Plus, all the ‘side effects’ are good ones.
Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine


Three key principles of a diabetes-busting diet

  1. No animal products
    By eliminating all animal products, you avoid eating substantial amounts of fat and your cholesterol intake will be zero. Most of the fat found in animal products is saturated for which we have absolutely no requirement.
    Another reason is that animal protein places an additional strain on the kidneys and can increase the damage already caused by diabetes. Protecting kidneys is a key issue for diabetics.
    All foods should be of plant origin and unrefined wherever possible – wholefoods – nourishing your body in the best possible way.
  2. Limit your fat intake
    It is important to cut down your fat intake to a minimum to reduce fat stores inside your cells.
    The amount of fat per serving should be no more than three grams or 10 per cent of the calories consumed (some labels show percentage). Apart from added oils, you might need to watch how much of nuts and seeds you eat.
    We all need some omega-3 fats as they are essential to our health. The best sources for your daily dose are flaxseed, chia seeds, and hempseed (1-2 tbsp) or walnuts (about 10 halves).
  3. Go for low to medium glycemic index (GI) foods
    Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly your food releases carbohydrates (sugars) into your bloodstream after you’ve eaten it. Foods that release sugars fast have a high GI, slow-releasing have a low GI.
    To help prevent sugar highs and lows, it’s important to focus on low-GI foods. These give your body better control over your blood sugar, even when you have insulin resistance.

    • Low GI foods include: most fruits and vegetables, pulses (beans, soya, peas, lentils, chickpeas), barley, buckwheat, hummus, pasta, nuts and seeds, sweet potatoes, dried apricots and prunes, rolled jumbo oats, all-bran cereals, wholegrain pumpernickel bread, soya yogurt
    • Medium GI foods include: wholemeal and rye bread, crispbread, brown rice, quinoa, corn, porridge oats, shredded wheat, pineapple, cantaloupe melon, figs, raisins and beans in tomato sauce
    • High GI foods (avoid as much as possible) include: potatoes, rice cakes, watermelon, pumpkin, white bread, white rice, cornflakes, sweet cereal, dates and sugary foods

A vegan diet based on these rules is the healthiest possible but it is advised you take a vitamin B12 supplement or eat B12 fortified foods (providing around 5 micrograms of B12 daily). These requirements may be higher in diabetics taking the drug Metformin as it can reduce B12 absorption. And in winter, add a vitamin D supplement – and that applies to everyone, not just diabetics!


Eat your way to health

Whether you’re at risk of, or already have, type 2 diabetes, your diet should be based on wholegrains, pulses, soya, vegetables, fruit and nuts and seeds. These foods are all nutritious and digested slowly – and your calorie intake is naturally limited by the low-fat rule. That’s why there’s no recommended portion restriction – with the exception of nuts and seeds. Research shows that this type of vegan diet produces better results than any single drug can achieve!
For more details, including recipes and menu plans, see our Big-D Campaign page.

About the author
Veronika Prošek Charvátová
Veronika Prošek Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

Scroll up