Nutrition science makes it very clear that the more plant-derived foods we eat (as opposed to animal-derived), the healthier we are in every way. In parts of the world where people live long and thrive – the “Blue Zones,” meat is used as a condiment to flavor food and is used much less often than it is in the standard American diet - SAD. Instead, beans, whole grains, vegetables and fruits are the mainstays of the diet in these healthy, long-living groups.
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“People who eat a plant-based diet have just a small fraction of the rates of diabetes seen in those who regularly eat meat. By switching to a healthy diet, you can start improving your health within a matter of hours,” according to Dr. Michael Greger, internationally renowned physician.
Inflammation is a major player in diabetes, and diet plays a definite role in the body’s ability to prevent and reduce out of control inflammation as is seen in obesity, cardiovascular disease, premature aging and diabetes. Adding micronutrient rich plant foods like the ones on this list, plus removing inflammation-causing foods like red meat, trans fat and processed junk food can significantly reduce inflammation.
If you’re just starting to eat a more health-promoting diet, or if you’ve been at it for awhile, this short list will help you focus on getting the best plant-based foods for diabetes control or prevention in your diet every single day.
1. LEGUMES: BEANS & LENTILS
Beans and lentils are an excellent source of whole, intact, slowly absorbed carbohydrates. They help to moderate blood sugar, giving you energy without raising your blood sugar too high too quickly.
Beans contain soluble fiber, promote healthy digestion, contain prebiotics, and are an excellent source of protein without any saturated fat whatsoever. Read more about beans here.
In his book “The End of Diabetes,” Dr. Joel Fuhrman recommends eating beans as your primary source of starch as part of his “diabetes-reversal program.”
Nuts have impressive anti-inflammatory effects that may help prevent insulin resistance, an underlying cause of type 2 diabetes. In people eating 5 or more servings of nuts each week, risk of diabetes was 27% lower (Nurses’ Health Study).
And, in individuals already diagnosed with diabetes, 5 servings per week reduced risk of heart disease by an amazing 47%. This is particularly noteworthy, since cardiovascular disease is a
common, serious and deadly problem for diabetics.
common, serious and deadly problem for diabetics.
3. LEAFY GREENS
Higher green vegetable consumption is associated with a significantly lower HbA1c levels (measure of average blood sugar over 2-3 months). For every serving of leafy greens you eat, you may be decreasing your risk of diabetes by 9%!
Leafy greens are among the most nutrient dense foods we can consume. They contain very high levels of minerals like iron and magnesium. They are full of vitamins like beta-carotene. And, they contain numerous health promoting phytochemicals that allow the body to prevent and correct DNA damage, inflammation and more.
A serving of leafy greens could be 1 cup of raw spinach or kale or ½ cup cooked greens like collards, mustard greens, or kale. Any dark leafy green vegetable counts in this category, and the more you eat of these the healthier you will be. For optimal health strive for more than 5 servings of veggies daily, with 2 or more as leafy greens.
On average, American adults eat less than a serving each day of green veggies. Sadly, average intake is closer to one serving per week.
[If you take a blood thinning medication, you must discuss adding more leafy greens to your diet with your Physician. Your medication dosage can be adjusted to account for your consistent increased intake of vitamin K rich foods.]
Berries and other low sugar fruits contain fiber and a high level of antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals. They help to satisfy or prevent cravings for refined sweets and carb rich junk food.
I highly recommend eating berries or cherries every day with breakfast, at least 1 cup. When berries are out of season or particularly expensive, frozen berries (no added sugar) are an excellent choice. Frozen berries, organic baby spinach, chia seeds and a plant-based milk make a delicious, nutrient dense, satisfying smoothie. You could even add a tablespoon or 2 of beans to up the fiber and protein content!
Strive to get at least 3, but preferably 5, servings of whole fruit each day. At least 1-2 of these should be berries. Avoid juice completely.
Seeds are rich in fiber, protein and fat. Chia, flax and hemp seeds are rich in omega-3 fats, which are an important part of an inflammation-reducing diet. Sesame seeds and chia seeds are rich in calcium, while flax seeds have a high concentration of disease-fighting lignans.
Each day, eat 1-2 tablespoons of seeds. You can add ground flaxseed to your oatmeal, put chia seeds in your smoothie or make a delicious sauce for your veggies out of tahini (ground sesame seed paste). You can download my free meal plan that includes a recipe for a delicious tahini sauce here.