Addressing Blood Sugar Challenges With Plant-Based Eating

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Diet Plays a Vital Role in Blood Sugar Abnormalities

healthy veggiesMoving towards a healthier way of eating is one of the main components when trying to control your blood sugar. Although there has already been an ongoing recommendation for type 2 diabetes patients, new research shows that limiting food portions and minimizing carbohydrate intake might not be enough. Evidence shows that people who subsist on plant-based diets composed of vegetables, fruits, rice, beans and noodles are at lesser risk to develop diabetes compared to those who eat meat. The evidence cited that in Japan, where diet is approach as more plant-based than meat-based, diabetes was rare. However, those who moved in the United States and adopted a Western way of eating also became at risk with diabetes later on.

Related studies associated the development of diabetes to eating meat diets as these foods cause insulin resistance. Meanwhile, a low-fat, plant-based diet improves insulin sensitivity, helps in reducing blood sugar and cholesterol and aids in weight loss. This can be due to the fact that plant foods, in general, have low saturated fat content, compared to meat and dairy products. Because of this, people who are following a vegan and vegetarian diet have lower caloric intake which leads to weight loss. Another reason why a plant-based diet helps improve insulin sensitivity is explained by the reduction in the accumulation of intramyocellular lipid. This means that as the body develops a better sensitivity to insulin, it also becomes more tolerant to carbohydrate. As you consume food with lower glycemic index, the blood sugar in your body is also maintained or even lowered down.

berries close upRates of diabetes are skyrocketing in countries with modern diets.  In the United States alone, around 26 million people are already found to have diabetes, 25 percent of which are not diagnosed. Even with a variety of treatments, the diabetic population steadily increases. Diabetes does not stand entirely on its own, as it can also increase the risk of cardiovascular illnesses up to four times higher.

Reduction in Diabetes Associated with Plant-Based Eating

Research by the Adventist Health Studies showed that non-vegetarians are twice more at risk to develop diabetes compared to vegans and vegetarians. Although part of the difference can be linked to higher BMI among vegetarians, there is still a lot of other factors aside from body weight. A separate study also showed that prevalence of diabetes is at 2.9 percent among vegetarian and 7.8 percent among those who constantly eat meaty and fatty animal products. Another data from different medical and health sources showed that the amount of meat contributes to the development of these diseases, rather than the type of meat.

In the past, it was thought that the best way to address blood sugar issues, avoid cardiovascular mortality, and prevent weight loss was through a uniform diabetic diet plan. This plan approached prevention and maintenance through calorie counting. With more research, there has been a move to create individualized dietary approaches that limit  sugar nd carbohydrate intake, and reign in saturated and trans fat consumption.

In 2010, the Department of Agriculture released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans which focused on plant-based diet. The guideline was based on the study of weight management as well as disease treatment and prevention. The study showed that those who follow plant-based diets consume lesser saturated fat and cholesterol and fewer calories and consume more vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. These individuals have lower BMIs, had lesser risks of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and obesity. They were also found to need minimal medication and treatment. Today, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as the American Diabetes Association, are incorporating plant-based diets as part of the meal-planning option for patients with diabetes.

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Research Supports the Blood Sugar Benefits for Vegans

As early as 1976, there were studies showing how plant-based diet can help to control blood sugar levels. These studies also showed that by following such diet, one can minimize or possibly eliminate the need for medication. A recent study compared 49 participants on an unrestricted low fat, low GI, plant-based diet to 50 participants who were following ADA’s nutrition principles published in 2002. This ADA nutrition guideline is based on standard governmental macronutrient recommendations and advocated reductions in the consumption of meat, saturated fat, protein carbohydrate, monounsaturated fat, and cholesterol.

After 22 weeks, the vegan group had greater weight loss at 14.3 percent compared to 6.8 percent among non-vegans. Their A1C (average blood glucose level over the 2 preceding months) also reduced by 1.23 percent compared to 0.38 percent among non-vegans. For the vegan eaters, cholesterol level was also reduced by 21.2 percent compared to the 9.3 percent in the non-vegans. It was also found that those who followed the vegan diet dropped their need for medication to 43 percent compared to 26 percent in the non-vegan group.

Veggies Diets Include Ample Fiber to Support Blood Sugar Control

Weight loss is a great factor in determining one’s risk of diabetes. Obesity is considered to be one of the major predictors of diabetes. People who are obese or are overweight have higher insulin resistance and lower insulin sensitivity. As their body weight increase, it becomes more challenging to produce insulin which helps in blood sugar management. In fact, 90 percent of people with diabetes are found to be obese or overweight. A study published in Nutrition Reviews showed that vegetarians have lower BMI compared to their meat-eating counterparts. Even without an increase in physical activity and without calorie restriction, they are still able to lose weight better and within a longer period of time.

healthy fiber plants

Lifestyle and Supplementation Can Markedly Support Healthy Blood Sugar

Functional medicine physician Dr. Mark Hyman suggests the following to help improve abnormal blood sugar:

  • Eliminate or reduce sugar as much as possible in your diet (particularly processed or concentrated sugar)
  • Eat unprocessed food
  • Do daily exercise (even walking 30 minutes daily can make a huge difference)
  • Get adequate sleep (yes, this is critical for healthy cortisol which important in regulating blood sugar)
  • Control your stress (daily meditation is excellent)
  • Consider supplements (below)

As you make the shift towards a plant-based diet, you will be eating more fiber.  It is very likely that you will find that your blood sugar gradually lowers over the following weeks and months.  This is achieved by consuming unrefined plant-based foods which release energy much more slowly into your bloodstream. Secondly, avoid consuming animal and animal-derived products to reduce the intake of saturated and trans fats. Vegetable oils, although healthier than animal oils, they contribute lots of fats and calories to your diet. If eliminating vegetable oil is not entirely possible, focus on extra virgin olive oil and keep it at a minimum.

When you have high blood sugar and that is very difficult to control, do not rush into adding more medication or declaring that this will be the way it is for all you life. Make more of your diet whole-food plants (lots of vegetables, low-glycemic fruit, legumes, whole grains, and a little nuts or seeds).  Take care when eating out to ensure that you are not consuming dietary fats in the form of cooking oil, dressings, and oily ingredients.

Herbs and supplements have been shown to be helpful for people in increase their insulin sensitivity and to lower blood sugar.  Here are a few to discuss with your doctor:

  • Gymnema – an herb used worldwide to support blood sugar
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid – an antioxidant report to help restore insulin sensitivity
  • Chromium Polynicotinate
  • Vitamin D3
  • PGX – taken before or with meal, a unique type of fiber that controls appetite and blood sugar release.

Many people have had achieved significant reducing in blood sugars after adopting plant-based diets.  If you are one of them, please tell us about it below in the comment box.

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Thriving on Plants is a resource for a whole food, plant-based way of eating and living. Here we celebrate all things plant and honor the power of informed awareness and a diet focused primarily of unprocessed vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains to support good health and happiness. Discover what a little more plant can do for your life!


This website is for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing presented here should be construed as a substitute for medical advice. Before beginning any type of new diet (natural or conventional), it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed physician, nutritionist and/or healthcare professional.
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