Plant-Based Nutritional Guidelines for Diabetes Made Simple

by | Last updated Jan 11, 2024 | Diabetes & Endocrine Health

In treating diabetes, one diet plan does not necessarily fit everyone. Studies show that well-balanced, predominately whole foods, plant-based diets improve blood glucose control in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Here are useful, evidence-based dietary strategies to improve prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Keep These Main Points in Mind, Emphasizing:

  • Plant-based, whole foods, and cholesterol-free diet. Forgo meat, milk, cheese, eggs, or other animal products.
  • High 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. In moderate amounts, nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels, improves blood flow, and reduces our risk of forming undesirable blood clots.
  • No high-fat diet (that is, low amount of saturated fat and no trans-fat). 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, steel cut oats, 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 independent-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 profiles, 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

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


(Editor note: Individuals adopting plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan diets should include vitamin B-12 and vitamin D-fortified foods and get these two vitamin levels checked annually. Frequent consumption of ultra-processed foods increases the risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.15 When used, ultra-processed foods consumption should be less than 10% of the total calories. Better yet, just use UPFs on special occasions or not at all.)

What is the Glycemic Index? 

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

Food Portion Size Carbs
Whole Grains (choose one):    
Cooked oatmeal, millet, brown rise, quinoa 1 cup
Whole grain bread 1 slice 1
Whole grain pancakes 3 (4½-in)
Protein (choose one):    
Almonds 11-12 none
Pecans 10 halves none
Walnuts 7 halves none
Brazil nuts 3 none
Almond butter 1 Tbsp none
Tofu, scrambled 1 cup ½
Beans ½ cup 1
Fruit (choose one):    
Apple 1 med 1  
Pear 1 med 1⅓
Strawberries/blueberries 1 cup ½
Grapefruit 1 1
Banana (green on ends) ½ 1
Ground Flaxseed 1-2 Tbsp negligent

Sample Lunch

Food Portion Size Carbs
Bean Soup 1 cup 1
Open-faced sandwich (veggie burger, 1 slice of bread, lettuce, tomato slice, red onion slice) 1
Low-fat vegan dressing 2 Tbsp none
Celery sticks 1 cup none

Sample Supper

Food Portion Size Carbs
Fruit (your choice) or fruit salad 1 piece or 1½ cups 1 or ⅔
Oat crackers or Baked tortilla chips 2-3 or 9 (½ oz) 1
Avocado dip 2 Tbsp none

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)



© 2024, 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.


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