Prediabetes, a condition characterized by higher-than-normal blood sugar levels, often serves as a warning sign for the onset of type 2 diabetes. The prevalence of prediabetes is alarmingly high, affecting millions of individuals worldwide. However, the good news is that prediabetes can be effectively managed and even reversed through dietary modifications and lifestyle changes. One such powerful strategy is adopting a plant-based diet.
A plant-based diet emphasizes consuming whole, unprocessed plant foods while minimizing or eliminating animal products. This approach has gained immense popularity due to its multiple health benefits, including its potential to mitigate the risk factors associated with prediabetes. Here, we explore the science-backed advantages of a plant-based diet for prediabetes and discuss practical tips on adopting and maintaining this lifestyle.
The Link Between Prediabetes and Diet
Prediabetes is closely associated with poor dietary choices, including high consumption of processed foods, sugary beverages, red and processed meats, and low intake of fiber-rich foods. These dietary patterns contribute to weight gain, insulin resistance, and inflammation, all of which play a pivotal role in the development of prediabetes. By contrast, a plant-based diet offers numerous health benefits that can help prevent and manage prediabetes effectively.
Prediabetes is when blood sugar levels are more elevated than normal but not yet increased enough to be classified as diabetes.
The Role of a Plant-Based Diet in Prediabetes Management
– Weight Management Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for managing prediabetes. A plant-based diet, naturally low in calories and high in fiber, enables individuals to achieve and sustain healthy body weight. Plant foods are generally less energy-dense than animal-based foods, meaning they provide fewer calories for the same volume of food. This characteristic promotes satiety and reduces overeating, aiding weight loss and management.
– Improved Insulin Sensitivity Insulin resistance, a key feature of prediabetes, occurs when cells become less responsive to insulin. A plant-based diet, abundant in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, is rich in fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. These components have been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity, helping to regulate blood sugar levels more effectively.
– Reduced Inflammation Chronic inflammation plays a significant role in progressing from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes. A plant-based diet, particularly one that includes a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, is abundant in anti-inflammatory compounds, such as vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. These nutrients possess potent antioxidant properties that counteract inflammation, reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
– Cardiovascular Health Prediabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Plant-based diets, especially those centered around whole foods and healthful fats (such as nuts, seeds, and avocados), have been linked to enhanced cardiovascular health. They can help reduce blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol levels, and enhance overall heart function.
Practical Tips for Adopting a Plant-Based Diet
– Gradual Transition Switching to a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be an overnight transformation. Start by including more plant-based meals into your routine and gradually decrease animal products. Experiment with new recipes and explore a miscellany of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
– Focus on Whole Foods Base your meals around whole, unprocessed foods to maximize nutritional intake. Opt for whole grains, such as quinoa and brown rice, and incorporate various fruits and vegetables for essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
– Protein Sources Plant-based proteins, including beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and seitan, can provide all the necessary amino acids. By combining different protein sources throughout the day, you can ensure adequate protein intake.
– Healthy Fats Include sources of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, in your diet. These fats are beneficial for heart health and overall well-being.
– Monitoring Nutrient Intake Pay attention to nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, which may require special attention on a plant-based diet. Consult a healthcare specialist or registered dietitian for personalized guidance and consider appropriate supplementation.
Adopting a plant-based diet can be a transformative step toward managing prediabetes and improving overall health. Its numerous benefits, including weight management, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and enhanced cardiovascular health, make it an appealing dietary approach. By gradually transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle and focusing on whole, unprocessed foods, individuals can optimize their nutrition and reduce the risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes. However, consulting with healthcare professionals or registered dietitians for personalized advice and support is essential throughout the journey. Embracing a plant-based diet empowers individuals to take control of their health, allowing them to thrive and enjoy a vibrant, diabetes-free life.
Role Of Plant-Based Diets For Pre-Diabetes Treatment
NourishDoc: Hello, everyone. Wow. I hope everyone’s having a good midweek. We are going to talk about pre-diabetes, especially for women. The data is very scary about how many women suffer from pre-diabetes and then diabetes. So, I won’t go into the details, but I will have Jeanne. She is joining me live here. She is a registered dietitian who focuses on women to help women manage pre-diabetes using a plant-based diet. So, welcome, Jeanne.
Dietitian Jeanne: Thank you so much for having me, and I’m excited to share this information. I feel very passionate about it. Also, there are many data to support it. So, I love having an opportunity and a platform to do so. So, let me kind of preface by saying that yes, I work predominantly with women and teach them how to use plants to help either stop the progression of pre-diabetes to diabetes or put their pre-diabetes in remission. So, I’m going to hit on that a little bit.
So, before I dive completely in, I think it is always a good idea to clarify what we mean. However, we buy whole food plant-based eating; there is much marketing out there, many food products out there that market themselves as plant-based, and when we look at the data and research, what plant-based whole food plant-based eating is minimizing processed meats, refined, processed grains, added sugars, fried foods, red meat, animal products. So, it’s a non-processed food choice, right? And we’re increasing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
So, I think it’s really important to clarify that because that’s where the data supports this for treating and using this type of diet as a pre-diabetes treatment modality. So, we’re not replacing meat with processed meat here. We’re replacing it with truth, so they become the star of the show instead of the side. So, why are plants important? So, we know when we look at the standard American diet that only 12.2% of Americans eat the recommended amount of fruit, and only 9. 3 eat the recommended servings of vegetables daily.
So, what is happening, and we touch on this already, is that six in ten adults in the US have a chronic disease, and four in ten have more. Many of these chronic diseases, heart disease, even chronic disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and keen diseases, can be linked with what we are eating and can be linked with the food choices we are making. I am focusing on diabetes with my clients and talking to them about how lifestyle choices are made. The food which we choose can make an impact. So, we have power here beyond medication, which is empowering and can be important to call out.
The other thing I think that’s really important to call out is that discussing pre-diabetes is not about going on some strict, crazy diet. It’s about shifting our mindset and eating patterns towards plants because we know through the research that the whole food plant-based we can be, the more likely we are to prevent and treat disease. So, I love this part of Whole Food Plant Based Eating is, yes, absolutely, you have full-blown diabetes; you’re managing that.
We may need to go a little bit heavier towards a 100% whole food plant-based, but in the pre-diabetes phase, we can make small shifts and see big rewards, and I love watching my clients see those rewards. So, when we talk about whole food, and plant-based eating, it’s supported by the American Diabetes Association both in Canada and the United States that eating a pattern of mostly plants works for blood sugar control and for putting your diabetes or your pre-diabetes in remission. I say remission instead of reversal on purpose because it’s not an endpoint when we’re talking about lifestyle diseases.
It’s a journey, and what we’re doing day in and day out and doing something sustainable that truly allows us to reach that goal. So if we go back to the lifestyle and eating patterns we were doing when we were first diagnosed with pre-diabetes, there’s a possibility we might be back in that pre-diabetes range of A1C. So, it’s about sustainability, something you can do for a long time to put that pre-diabetes in remission and reap its benefits.
So, with that being said, let’s talk about the main cause of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. This is predominantly the cause of most individuals’ insulin resistance. This is an important piece because I’ll understand more when I get to diet. Insulin resistance is when our body cells cannot use insulin, a hormone produced by our body that’s meant to move sugar out of our blood and into our cells for energy.
Our cells either have too much adipose or fat or are inflamed. There’s much inflammation happening; it’s like having gum in a keyhole, and your insulin which is the key, can’t get in there and help the blood, sugar get out of your blood and into your cells. So, this is really where most pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes come from this insulin resistance, and what happens is our blood sugar keeps going up because we have no way of getting it out of the blood and where whole food plant-based eating matters is that it gets to the root cause of this insulin resistance.
There are certainly many other diets out there that promote lowering your blood sugar. We can talk about keto or no-carb diets, and they will lower your blood sugar, but they’re treating the symptom, not the cause. Whole food plant-based eating treats the cause, and this is how it reduces inflammation. Eating more plants means eating more phytochemicals and antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and increase our insulin sensitivity, allowing that insulin to work the way it should.
It also decreases the fat accumulation in our muscles and liver so that blood sugar can get out of your blood and into the cells where it’s supposed to be. Finally, it supports a healthy weight which is a component of pre-diabetes and type 2 Diabetes. It promotes a healthy gut microbiome which also plays a role in carbohydrate metabolism and how sensitive we are to insulin.
So again, whole food plant-based is attacking the root cause of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, not just the symptom of having high blood sugar, and that’s a very key component because when I start teaching people how to eat whole food plant face and they realize how many carbohydrates are in these foods. They start to get scared and say I can’t do that; I can’t have all these carbohydrates.
Of course, we’re not going to eat seven bagels at once, but what happens is when we can get our eating pattern whole food plant-based, we are teaching our body and allowing our body to use those carbohydrates than the way that they’re meant to be used and therefore, not contributing to blood sugar spikes. So, the other piece that I wanted to hit on with Whole Food Plant Based Eating is that what you replace things with is really important.
So, what are we replacing it with when we remove something from the diet, say it’s animal products as in whole food can’t be seen? And many people get scared when I say whole food, plant-based eating because they say I can’t just eat fruits and vegetables. Well, it’s not just fruits and vegetables. It’s legumes, like lentils, it’s beans, it’s nuts, it’s seeds, it’s, of course, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. So, it’s a very large list of foods that can include, which are nutrient-dense and very low-calorie for the most part.
So that’s where that natural side effect of weight loss and decreased fat intake that helps with insulin sensitivity kicks in. So, I’d love to share some practical tips about getting started with Whole Food Plant Based Eating. So, suppose you’ve recently been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. In that case, there are some things you can start doing right away, lifestyle-wise and food-wise, that can make an impact and help get you on the road to putting this pre-diabetes in remission.
One of them is cutting back or eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages. So, that’s one place many people aren’t looking, and we need to start looking. This includes our Starbucks drinks, not just sodas and not just lemonade. It is also our any drinks that we’re having of liquid sugar are important for an individual having trouble processing that sugar. You can start making half your plate vegetables.
That’s a really good place to start because we’re getting large volume, high antioxidant fiber which helps the gut microbiome. We’re cutting calories, fat, sugar, and salt just by making that one motion and then, finally, looking at food labels and your foods and aiming for foods with fewer ingredients or without even a box. By making these couple shifts, you can start to see a difference, and I also have some additional tips.
What Plant-Based Foods Are Best In A Healthy Plate?
NourishDoc: All right, that was amazing, comprehensive information you gave us. So, I had a couple of things you shared on your Insta page, which I love; the way you’ve put it all together, some ideas, right? For a plant-based, like starting from the base, then carbohydrate protein has a healthy plate. Please give us a couple of examples of that.
Dietitian Jeanne: Sure. So, something that’s really important for balancing our blood sugars is ensuring that we’re having a mixture of nutrients at once. So, we’ve all had this happen before. Where we eat something that is a very simple carbohydrate, our blood sugar, even if you don’t have pre-diabetes, you might get a little bit of a sugar rush and all this energy, and then you crash, and that’s really because that food doesn’t have the components that help slow how fast that sugar gets into our blood.
So, what I do with my starter kit that’s on my Insta page, which you can download for free, is I help show you how to put a balanced meal together that includes a complex carbohydrate, plant-based proteins, as well as optional healthy fats and those three components together, first of all, help us feel full and satisfied, which is very important and second, really help slow how fast that sugar gets into our blood. It makes it, so our body has time to process that, and it avoids those spikes and crashes and the cravings that come with that.
So, I’ve created a six-step method. It always starts with a green leafy base, and I do that for multiple reasons. One is that it gives you volume. So, when you look at your plate, I don’t want to look at my plate and look feel hungry before I even start eating because there’s nothing there. It helps build volume with not many calories but is also where many antioxidants are green leafy.
So, it’s a great place to start with either cooked or raw dark green leafy, and then we incorporate different whole grains; there are so many to choose from; same thing with plant-based protein, legumes, beans, tofu, soy products, all of those and then adding color and flavor because we want it to taste good. So, I will walk you through how to do that step and then give examples of what that looks like at mealtime.
NourishDoc: Can you give me one example, if you don’t mind?
Dietitian Jeanne: Oh yeah, sure. So, one that’s like always a big hit, and I make it very often, is like it would be like a burrito bowl, right? So, typically, we can talk about if you go to Chipotle or something, right? And they finished; they made the bottom, right? I’m flipping the script and always making the bottom green leafy. So, I’ll use spinach here because it’s a kind of neutral or kale, a neutral flavor, not like arugula or something that’s super peppery.
Then I would add a half cup, three-fourths cup of quinoa. So, sometimes I do this hot or cold, and then, you would add some beans. So, black beans work nicely, and then; step four would be your more vegetables. So, the more color, the better. So, it would be red peppers and tomatoes, corn if you want, my healthy fat would be avocado, and my flavor would be salsa. This is a super easy one that many people love. Again, I’m getting all those components to balance my blood sugar and a ton of nutrient-dense food without many calories. So, it helps support a healthy weight as well.
NourishDoc: Would you add tofu or some meat?
Dietitian Jeanne: Yeah. So, black beans would be the protein source, and quinoa is a great source of protein as well, and it’s a complete protein. So, those are our protein sources there, and I will say it’s a little bit of a mind shift as you get started; all my clients that are starting from scratch, I usually will work with them to do what I call the phase-out method because especially if they’re cooking for a family or someone else, it’s kind of weird to not have a meet there at first.
After all, especially in the American diet, meat is typical, especially at lunch and dinner. So, you start by doing half meat, half beans, and then slowly reducing the amount of meat. So, you do some chicken and beans. You get used to doing that and then slowly omit the chicken, but beans, legumes, and lentils have 18 grams of protein per cup, so it is very easy to get your protein from plants.
A sustainable good diet
NourishDoc: All right, this is great; this is very simple to make, what you just said. It’s relatively easy, well.
Dietitian Jeanne: Yes, and, as I said at the beginning, it’s about sustainability. It’s about actually being able to do it, and sticking with it, because we can follow whatever strict diet for 30 days and see our blood sugar normalize. However, if we can’t stick with it, it’s going back up.
So, we need to find ways that fit in our life that are simple, approachable and taste good, but also support our goals, and that’s really what I work with my clients on is really trying to find that balance between loving what we’re eating, living our life, and also balancing blood sugars, right?
NourishDoc: Absolutely, and that’s the problem. With all of us in sustainability and maintenance, you can lose weight like a crash diet and then boom and back up after a couple of weeks or three weeks. Most of us have been going on a roller coaster ride throughout the years.
Dietitian Jeanne: Right, and research shows that with weight and blood sugar, it’s much more detrimental to have these large swings than to have it even a little high but sustained. So, if we remember that, it doesn’t need to be a perfect number with blood sugars. But we need to find a balance and not be up and down because it pays a toll on your body when you do that.
NourishDoc: Well, that’s great information. We all need to shift our minds and make some modifications because we are not used to not having a meet; as you said in one of our meals, suddenly switching from there to becoming completely plant-based takes a few adjustments.
Dietitian Jeanne: Yes and absolutely, and it’s okay to take that time to adjust, you’re more likely to stick with it if you do take that time, and I will say, as I mentioned at the beginning, multiple studies are showing mean if you look at like the blue zones as a perfect example, it’s not even necessarily about being a hundred percent whole food plant-based or perfect all the time.
It’s about getting the spectrum to get closer there. So, if you’re at a one and can get to an eight or a seven or a six and ten is 100% whole food plant-based, you’ll still reap the health benefits. Going a little easy on ourselves is also a good thing.
NourishDoc: Well, thank you so much. Great information; thank you, everyone, for your continued support. We’re launching our platform and an app this month. So, stay tuned. Anything else you want to add, Jeanne, before I wrap up today?
Dietitian Jeanne: I encourage everyone to visit me on Instagram. It’s at Plants for Pre-Diabetes. You can download my free starter kit with pantry staples, Meal Matrix, and meal ideas to get you started; of course, you can always DM me if you have more questions or are interested in one-on-one coaching. I do that as well, virtually.
NourishDoc: Well, thank you so much. I’m going to check it out. You have an amazing Insta page; I commented on that earlier, complimenting you. So, thank you for joining us. Please have a great rest of the week, and continue to support us.