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Plant-Based Nutritional Guidelines for Diabetes Made Simple

In treating diabetes, one diet plan does not necessarily fit everyone. Here are useful, evidence-based tips that we, at the Wildwood Lifestyle Center, have found to help many individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Keep These Main Points in Mind

  • Plant-based, cholesterol-free diet. Forgo meat, milk, cheese, eggs, or other animal products.
  • Heavy on minimally processed whole grains. Low on nutritionally-devoid processed foods.
  • High fiber. A good diet should consist of about 50 grams of fiber per day. Fiber makes you feel full, but has no calories. Moreover, it helps maintain lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
  • Proper protein. Plant-based means you get more arginine (a beneficial amino acid) and fewer byproducts.
  • No high-fat (that is, low saturated fat and trans-fat-free). Your body needs good fats, plant-based fats. By eliminating animal products you can get “unhealthful fat” (saturated fat) down to about three or four percent of total calories. Don’t consume hydrogenated fat typically found in many desserts, snack foods, or processed foods. Avoid fried foods.

Watch Your Carbs!

Strong evidence from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that a diet high in whole grains and fiber and a low glycemic load is associated with a lower risk for diabetes. Higher consumption of total whole grains and several commonly eaten whole grain foods, including whole grain breakfast cereal, oatmeal, dark bread, brown rice, added bran, and wheat germ, was significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.1 Moderation is key, however. Persons with diabetes should only have 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates (3 to 4 carb choices) per meal. The 45 to 60 range is based on 1,500 to 2,000 calories per day, respectively. Enjoy the complex carbs best for you such as legumes, nuts, oatmeal, wholegrain bread, and legume pasta, organic non-GMO soy, sweet potatoes, and brown rice. A serving size of cereal, whole grain pasta, or starchy vegetable is usually a 1/2 cup.

Consuming less-processed whole-grain foods over 2 weeks, according to another study, improved blood sugar levels in free-living adults with type 2 diabetes compared with an equivalent amount of whole-grain foods that were finely milled. Dietary advice should promote the consumption of minimally processed whole grains.2

Love Your Beans

With so much research out there showing that legumes improve glucose levels, diabetics would do well to eat some form of them on a daily basis. Although they contain carbohydrates, beans are loaded with soluble fiber and resistant starch. Consequently, their consumption does not spike blood sugar. Eating beans at breakfast improves the blood sugar after lunch! Beans on whole grain toast is a winner! Why? Inclusion of whole grains or legumes at breakfast decreases postprandial blood glucose levels at lunch and/or dinner on the same day, whereas consumption of a whole grain or lentil dinner reduces blood sugar at breakfast the following morning. This effect is lost upon milling, processing, and cooking at high temperatures.3

Beans are simple to prepare. One of the fastest methods is to cook them in a crockpot. Presoak about 8 hours, rinse, then cook until tender. Legumes can be served as patties, soups and stews, or salads. Your body will thank you! A serving size of beans is 1/2 cup.

Respect the Nuts

The Harvard School of Public Health published results showing that regular consumption of nuts (5 servings of nuts per week) lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by 44 percent in diabetic women and also improves their lipid profile. A near-daily serving of nuts may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers found in a study of 16, 000 diabetic women, those who ate five servings of nuts per week had a 17% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those who ate less than a serving per week. They had  more favorable plasma lipid profile, including lower LDL cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and apolipoprotein-B-100 concentrations. In this study, one serving of nuts was defined as 28 grams 4

Other Fats

Include olives, flaxseed, or chia seeds in your diet. Flaxseed is rich in omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Animal studies have shown that the ALA in flax seeds prevented cholesterol from being deposited in the blood vessels of the heart, reduced inflammation in the arteries, and reduced tumor growth.5 6 All of these advantages benefit the individuals who have diabetes because diabetes significantly increases the risk of blood vessel and heart disease, certain cancers, and inflammation.

Sufficient quantities of omega-3 and some omega-6 fatty acids actually help to prevent diabetes as well as suppress inflammation. (Reducing inflammation is one of the diabetic’s nutritional goals.) Moderate quantities of omega-6 fats from nuts can also improve insulin sensitivity. Some elements found in cold-pressed, virgin olive oil actually improve cardiovascular risk factors such as lipids, blood pressure, and endothelial function as well as help prevent clotting and inflammation.  Oleuropein, a compound found in olives and cold-pressed, virgin olive oil , improves insulin resistance. 7 Eating green, ripe olives would be a better choice because of their dietary fiber. If on occasion oil is needed, use only cold-pressed oils sparingly.

Fats to Avoid

Saturated fats promote inflammation and insulin resistance.8 Trans fats consumption is also linked to increased inflammation.9

Consider the Best Fruits and Vegetables for You

  • Berries and citrus foods (not juice)
  • Dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers.
  • Sweet potatoes are better than regular potatoes.

Choose fruits and vegetables that score low to moderate on the glycemic index. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, ameliorate the rise of blood sugar and insulin in overweight or obese adults with insulin resistance and in adults with the metabolic syndrome.10 Regular consumption of berries, rich in soluble fibers and anthocyanins, can improve blood sugar levels in diabetic individuals.11 Different berries have the potential to help diabetes by different mechanisms.12 Additionally, berries are rich in anthocyanins which discourage the development of undesirable clots. Diabetes increases the risk of clotting.

Because citrus fruits are rich in soluble fiber, vitamin C, folate, and potassium, the consumption of whole citrus fruits would be an asset to a menu for diabetic individuals. The flavonoids in whole citrus fruits possess potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potentials. This is of interest because inflammation and free radical damage fuels long-term complications of diabetes. Rutin, a natural citrus flavonoid found in fruits and vegetables, is effective in lowering elevated blood sugar and also acts as an antioxidant. Rutin supplementation significantly decreases glucose levels in diabetic patients. 13 Because whole citrus fruits contain several diabetic and cardiovascular compounds, we believe it is better to consume whole citrus fruits than just using one citrus-derived phytochemical supplement. For example, animal studies show that diosmin (DS) is a common component of many citrus fruits and has an ability to stimulate the activity of pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin.14

What is the Glycemic Index? (Compiled by Bernell E. Baldwin, Ph.D.)

Glycemic index is the measure of how quickly a food causes our blood sugar levels to rise. It is compared to straight sugar’s effect on blood sugar. Scientists found that 50 grams of sugar would raise the blood sugar by a certain amount. They then scored each food based on how much it would raise the blood sugar by comparison. For example, they gave a score of 100 to refined sugar and baked potato got a score of 98. Thus, potatoes are considered to have a high glycemic index (almost equal to sugar). Diabetics and borderline diabetics should avoid high scores and emphasize low scores. Read labels understandingly.

Cornflakes compared with oatmeal? Flakes rate 80, oatmeal, 49. Pasta is even less at 45. Beans and raw carrots both have a low score of 31. Lentils, a bit less at 29. And nuts score only 13. Here are some factors that reduce the impact that meals have on blood sugar.

Steadying the Blood Sugar Curve

Fiber helps much by slowing down the release of sugar into the blood.

Good fat from olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds also helps to slow down the rise of sugar levels. Nuts have an added cardioprotective benefit.

Slow, relaxed chewing or drinking helps.

Choose whole foods rather than refined ones. While a whole apple may take several minutes to eat, its equivalent in juice can be gulped in just a few seconds, spiking the blood sugar quickly.

People eat meals not just a food. And it is the gastric emptying and digestive response that counts more than just glycemic index. So, use it as a tool, not a slave driver.

Menu Planning

Sample Breakfast

FoodPortion SizeCarbs
Whole Grains (choose one):
Cooked oatmeal, millet, brown rise, quinoa1 cup
Whole grain bread1 slice1
Whole grain pancakes3 (4½-in)
Protein (choose one):
Almonds11-12none
Pecans10 halvesnone
Walnuts7 halvesnone
Brazil nuts3none
Almond butter1 Tbspnone
Tofu, scrambled1 cup½
Beans½ cup1
Fruit (choose one):
Apple1 med 1
Pear1 med 1⅓
Strawberries/blueberries1 cup½
Grapefruit11
Banana (green on ends)½1
Ground Flaxseed1-2 Tbspnegligent

Sample Lunch

FoodPortion SizeCarbs
Bean Soup1 cup 1
Open-faced sandwich (veggie burger, 1 slice of bread, lettuce, tomato slice, red onion slice)1
Low-fat vegan dressing2 Tbspnone
Celery sticks1 cupnone

Sample Supper

FoodPortion SizeCarbs
Fruit (your choice) or fruit salad1 piece or 1½ cups1 or ⅔
Oat crackers or Baked tortilla chips2-3 or 9 (½ oz)1
Avocado dip2 Tbspnone

Wise choices can manage blood sugar. Here are some suggestions:

Instead of…Choose…
Cornflakes (80)Corn (59) or Oats (49)
Bananas (62)Apples (39), Oranges (40) or Orange Juice (46)
Puffed Rice (95)Oatmeal (49)
Baked Potato (98)Pasta (45)

© 2021, Wildwood Sanitarium. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.

Sources

  1. Hu Yang. Intake of whole grain foods and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective cohort studies. BMJ 2020;370:m2206. April 16, 2020. i: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2206
  2. Alberg, S. Whole-Grain Processing and Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Trial. Diabetes Care 2020 Aug; 43(8): 1717-1723. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc20-0263
  3. Higgins, Janine A. “Whole grains, legumes, and the subsequent meal effect: implications for blood glucose control and the role of fermentation.” Journal of nutrition and metabolism vol. 2012 (2012): 829238. doi:10.1155/2012/829238
  4. Li, Tricia Y et al. “Regular consumption of nuts is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in women with type 2 diabetes.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 139,7 (2009): 1333-8. doi:10.3945/jn.108.103622
  5. Francis AA.Effects of dietary flaxseed on atherosclerotic plaque regression. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2013 Jun 15;304(12):H1743-51. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00606.2012
  6. Kajla, Priyanka et al. “Flaxseed-a potential functional food source.” Journal of food science and technology vol. 52,4 (2015): 1857-71. doi:10.1007/s13197-014-1293-y
  7. Fujiwara, Yoko et al. “Oleuropein improves insulin resistance in skeletal muscle by promoting the translocation of GLUT4.” Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition vol. 61,3 (2017): 196-202. doi:10.3164/jcbn.16-120
  8. University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “Link between high-fat diet and type 2 diabetes clarified.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110411121539.htm>
  9. Mazidi, Mohsen et al. “The relationship of plasma Trans fatty acids with dietary inflammatory index among US adults.” Lipids in health and disease vol. 16,1 147. 4 Aug. 2017, doi:10.1186/s12944-017-0527-1
  10. Calvano, Aaron et al. “Dietary berries, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes: an overview of human feeding trials.” Food & function vol. 10,10 (2019): 6227-6243. doi:10.1039/c9fo01426h
  11. Jenkins DJ, Srichaikul K, Kendall CW, Sievenpiper JL, Abdulnour S, Mirrahimi A, et al. The relation of low glycemic index fruit consumption to glycemic control and risk factors for coronary heart disease in type 2 diabetes. (MetS Diabetologia2011;54:271
  12. Edrisinghe I. Anti-diabetic actions of Berry polyphenols – Review on proposed mechanisms of action. https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-berry-research/jbr137
  13. Mahmoud, Ayman M et al. “Beneficial Effects of Citrus Flavonoids on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Health.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity vol. 2019 5484138. 10 Mar. 2019, doi:10.1155/2019/5484138
  14. Pari L, Srinivasan S. Antihyperglycemic effect of diosmin on hepatic key enzymes of carbohydrate metabolism in streptozotocin-nicotinamide-induced diabetic rats. Biomed Pharmacother. 2010 Sep;64(7):477-81. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2010.02.001.

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