We have all heard the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but what if there was some truth behind this statement? Although an apple a day may not cause a person’s disease state, fruits and vegetables have shown time and time again how powerfully they can impact your health. It is common for people with diabetes to count their carbohydrate intake but considering your consumption of red meat and high-fat dairy may play just as an important role. A large study in 2003 found that the majority of participants with diabetes saw promising results within weeks of starting a plant-based diet. This included weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, and a decrease in glucose and HbA1c levels.

The digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose is an essential molecule to the body because it powers our cells. When glucose is broken down by the digestive system, it requires insulin to move the glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. If too much glucose remains in the blood over a long period of time, it can lead to blockage of blood vessels leading to blindness, kidney failure, limb loss, and heart attack, among other complications. In diabetes, insulin can either be absent or unresponsive to rising blood sugar levels.

Insulin treatment is necessary for the survival of individuals with type 1 diabetes, but in individuals with type 2 diabetes, insulin is still present but inadequate to maintain normal sugar levels. Thus, they, too need either insulin and/or other medications to make sure that extra glucose is removed from their bloodstream. Fat in your blood can build up inside your cells, causing blockage of the insulin-signaling process (also called insulin resistance). This decreased insulin sensitivity can be attributed to the consumption of too many calories, including those from saturated fat and cholesterol found in meat and dairy. Plant-based diets are lower in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol. Our bodies are able to synthesize all the cholesterol we need without the added dietary source. Plant-based diets have shown to be promising for individuals with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that individuals with type 1 diabetes were able to lower their HbA1c and reduce insulin requirement by the incorporation of a plant-based diet.

Diet is one of the fundamental pillars of treatment that you can take charge of. It can be overwhelming and seemingly impossible to completely change one’s diet, but small changes over time will make a big difference. Consider removing the cream from your coffee tomorrow morning or opting for a black bean burger instead of the cheeseburger or lose that cheese and make it a hamburger instead!