How a Whole Food, Plant Based Diet Can Reverse Diabetes
The vegan diet has gone from “far out” to “well, maybe there’s something there” status when it comes to improving your diabetes. I never thought I would be open to this type of diet, but you can now consider me a very big proponent.
And, I am not alone. I did a poll on this site and over 70 percent of the people who took the poll said they would be open to trying a vegan diet if it could make them healthier.
If you read further, you will learn the basis for why a plant based diet is possibly the best diet decision you can make for your health. In fact, many people who follow the diet have effectively “reversed” their diabetes, and many other ailments including cardiovascular disease.
However, before I delve into this way of eating, let’s address some of the social stigmas of veganism.
Vegans have always enjoyed a rather extremist place in American culture. Very often, there is thought to be a social, political and even a religious or spiritual component to the diet.
For example, some vegans believe that you should not use any animal product, not even leather in your shoes or furniture. See Wikipedia discussing different social beliefs of some vegans.
I only want to discuss the NUTRITIONAL benefits of a vegan diet on diabetes. Hopefully, after looking at the resources on this page, you will come to realize that this is one of the most powerful and nutritious diets you can follow.
How The Vegan Diet Came to the Discussion as a Diabetes Treatment Option
I was introduced to a whole foods, plant based diet upon reading The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell and his son Thomas Campbell. This book was a national best seller and sold over 500,000 copies, making it one of the most popular books on nutrition ever written in the United States. Dr. Campbell was a nutrition based researcher for over 40 years.
The China Study is the most comprehensive study on nutrition ever completed and Dr. Campbell was one of the original participating scientists. Dr. Campbell draws upon his experience in this study, as well as many others, to concludes that a whole foods plant based diet is far superior to the typical western diet, which relies heavily on animal based foods such as meat, dairy products and eggs. He believes our choice to eat a diet rich in animal products and processed food has led to the explosion in obesity and lifestyle related diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Dr. Campbell is not alone. There are many other reputable doctors and scientist who advocate a whole food plant based diet, some of whom I will discuss below. For now, let’s take a closer look at the components of the diet and why it is beneficial for people with diabetes.
What the Vegan Diet Entails – What You Can Eat
This diet is simple. In fact, the entire description of what to eat takes about 5 pages (out of 368 pages) in The China Study.
- No Animal Protein: Absolutely no animal food products allowed. This includes meat, fish, all dairy and eggs.
- Whole Grains: Any grains consumed should be whole grains. Pasta, rice, oatmeal and other grains are perfectly fine, so long as they are whole grain. Processed grains, such as white bread, rice and pasta provide no real nutritional value and should be avoided.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Eat as much as you want. But, you do need to eat them!
- Legumes: Beans are a great source of protein and nutrients.
- Minimize Oils and Fats: This diet requires you to minimize (not eliminate completely) the use of oils, even olive oil.
- High Fiber: Eating whole grains and lots of vegetables dramatically increase your dietary fiber levels. High dietary fiber is critical to maintaining good overall health.
- Eat as Much as You Want: Believe it or not, this diet does not restrict the amount of food you eat. This may seem incredible, but studies show that following a proper whole food plant based diet actually causes you to eat LESS than you normally would. I would attest to this. I am often so full I don’t want to eat another bite. This typically never happened to me prior to adopting this diet.
- Eliminates All Cholesterol: Cholesterol comes from animal products. If you don’t eat any animal products, you completely eliminate cholesterol from your diet. It is not uncommon for people following this diet to have their cholesterol levels come back to healthy levels within a matter of weeks or a few months.
- Simplicity: If you have ever tried to follow the American Diabetes Association diets, and succeeded, well good for you. I have studied several of their recommended diets extensively and often come away confused. Exchange this for that. Carb counting. My Plate Method. Low glycemic index? Oy Vey!
Who can figure this out on a daily basis? It gets even harder if you are at a party or eating out. The plant based diet simply requires you to eliminate animal products. No measuring food intake or complex formulas to figure out what to eat. Sure, you will have to figure out new recipes, but this is the same for any eating change.
This is it. From a technical standpoint, this is not very hard to implement at all.
Why This Diet is Important to Diabetics
It took Dr. Campbell over 350 pages to build his case for a plant based diet, so I will not be able to do it justice in this article. I would suggest buying the book. However, the big picture here for diabetics is that the diet tends to reduce excess weight, reduce cholesterol levels and lower and stabilize blood glucose levels.
If you decide to try the diet, you should work very closely with your doctor to monitor your blood sugar levels. This is particularly important if you are taking insulin or any prescription medications to lower blood sugar. The diet has been so successful for many diabetics, that there is a risk of developing hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This means the diet is working and you need to dial down your medications. Think about this. You actually have the strong possibility of lowering, if not eliminating your prescription meds! While Type 2 diabetics may be able to eliminate all medications, Type 1 diabetics will still have to take insulin. However, the amount of insulin can often be reduced.
The diet also reduces or helps to heal many other diabetic health related complications, including cardiovascular disease.
An excellent companion to The China Study is Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program For Reversing Diabetes. Dr. Barnard’s book also advocates a whole food plant based diet for controlling and even reversing diabetes. This book is filled with inspiring stories about how this diet allowed many diabetics to reduce and even eliminate medications.
Dr. Barnard’s book is also easier to follow than The China Study and provides recipes and other tools to help you implement the diet.
Like all things related to diabetes, this diet is not without controversy. I also acknowledge that a plant based diet is not right for everyone. Let’s take a look at some of the controversies and then some options to learn more.
The Science is Junk: Some commentators claim that the science backing the plant based diet is less than convincing. Admittedly, there are studies that say just about anything you want them to say. It is VERY rare to come to a universal truism in the field of nutrition research. Dr. Campbell and others readily agree on this and even discuss many of the inconsistencies.
Nonetheless, I have found the wealth of evidence supporting a plant based diet compelling. I would encourage each of you to do your own research. I would also note that it is important to look at the source of the information.
The two most well known medical professionals touting this diet are Dr. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Dr. Campbell has been researching nutrition for over 40 years, most of them as a professor at Cornell University. Cornell is a highly regarded research institution and an Ivy League member, for those unfamiliar with the school. Dr. Esselstyn was a cardiovascular surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic for over 35 years. The Cleveland Clinic is one of the most respected cardiovascular hospitals in the United States.
What’s the point of stating this? My point is that these aren’t some random guys on the Internet touting a new brand of snake oil. They are highly respected doctors within the medical and research community. Unlike other well known diet programs, they are not selling expensive products. You can pick up their books for about $10 each on Amazon.com.
Choosing a new diet to follow is a big decision. Take a look at some of the recommended books below and talk with your doctor. Give it a good honest try for 30 days and see if you like it. You don’t have to commit to it for the rest of your life. I will say that I tried it, lost a lot of weight and never felt better.
Low Carbohydrate Diet is Better: Additionally, you have a whole host of people claiming that a diet low in carbohydrates and higher in fat and protein is better. These are diets like the South Beach Diet (primarily Phase 1 and Phase 2) and the Atkins Diet. I tried the South Beach Diet and I did lose weight. However, I did not always feel the best on it. Moreover, there are multiple studies that show that a diet high in protein and fat can lead to kidney damage and even an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
One Size Does Not Fit All: Other doctors’ claim that the Vegan Diet is not biologically suited for everyone. Dr. Mercola, a well respected nutrition commentator, falls into this camp. He suggests that different people have different nutritional needs and may not be suited for a strict vegan or vegetarian diet. He also does a very good job outlining the dangers of following a vegan diet.
I think there is some validity to his claim. However, the number of people who fall into this category is very small. Don’t use this reason as an excuse to not give it a try.
The Paradigm Shift is Too Great: A paradigm shift is effectively a change in ones thinking. Going from an animal protein based diet to a vegan based diet may simply be too much for some people. There are many stories about how heart surgeons don’t offer this diet to their patients because it is too radical. Instead, they recommend bypass surgery.
I would suggest that using a jack to spread open a person’s rib cage and operate on the heart is TOO radical! I would much rather try a different way of eating! In fact, there are numerous studies which conclude that certain heart surgeries do nothing to avoid future heart disease. In contrast, switching to a whole food plant based diet can help you reverse the damage associated with heart disease.
Getting Well Rounded Nutrition is Very Hard following a Vegan Diet: I think getting well rounded nutrition from any diet is hard. Judging by the rise in lifestyle related diseases and obesity rates, it is clear that most people’s diets are not well rounded. A plant based diet requires you to eat a well rounded diet to be healthy, just like any other diet. Get a meal plan going and stick with it.
The bottom line is that what most people are eating is not working. The vast majority of people are eating too much meat and dairy and not enough vegetables and fruit. Additionally, processed grains (i.e., NOT whole grains) and high sugar intake through foods or sweetened beverages are killing you. It’s really as simple as that.
You owe it to yourself to read further on this subject and make big changes to your diet. As always, consult your doctor and get started now!
Dr. T. Colin Campbell – The China Study. This is the grand daddy of them all. If you are not into wading through huge volumes of research recitations, you may want to pick one of the other books on this section. However, if you decide to take it on, you will not be disappointed.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn – Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure Dr. Esselstyn was a heart surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic for over 35 years, including a stint as President of the staff and a member of the board of governors. Dr. Esselstyn is no quake vegan!
Yet, Dr. Esselstyn advocates a whole foods, plant based diet. Hmmmm…. Maybe it is worth seeing what he has to say about this diet? After all, he spent a lifetime performing open heart surgeries. He knows where you may be headed and has some good thoughts on how you can avoid this outcome.
This book is not just for people who have cardiovascular disease. In fact, this book is easier to read and digest than The China Study.
Dr. Neil Barnard – Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs. Dr. Barnard takes the whole food, plant based diet and specifically applies it to diabetes. A highly recommended read if you are considering this diet.
Dr. John McDougall – The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good! Dr. McDougall has been advocating a plant based diet for decades in his practice. This is another great resource for you to explore.
Forks Over Knives – For a video overview of the diet, take a look at this video that Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn put together. This is a great movie!