Diabetes is one of the most prevalent health issues that people in our country suffer from. It’s the seventh leading cause of death, affecting millions of people in this country daily. In 2012, 86 million Americans age 20 and above were diagnosed with prediabetes, which was 7 million more than we saw in 2010. In 2012, 29.1 million Americans were diagnosed and in 2010, that number was 25.8 million. What’s worse is that over 18,000 of those cases were in youth under the age of 20 years old!

Clearly, we have a serious problem here. 

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The Real Question At Hand

Could it be that this is just by coincidence, or could the problem with diabetes have something to do with the way our food system has changed over the years? Since sugar is in just about everything and processed, fatty foods make up a large portion of Americans’ diets, clearly, the increase of diabetes has nothing to do with our country just magically becoming unhealthy. Our food industry is feeding us lies about what’s healthy and what’s not, and while our government has made significant changes to school lunch room menus, providing us with calorie counts on fast food and restaurant menus, and even banning soda in some cities, we still have a long way to go.

Why would food manufacturers put sugar and toxic fats into our food considering they have no nutritional value whatsoever, if not to make us addicted to them to increase profit? These foods trigger opiates in the brain, much like the protein found in milk known as casein. Opiates create a drugged like feeling inside of us that leads us wanting more and inevitably coming back for more every single time.

Why Sugar and Processed Fats Lead to Diabetes

Each time we eat more added sugars and toxic fats (like vegetable oils and highly processed fats), we disrupt our insulin levels in the body that manage blood sugar. This causes insulin spikes and insulin resistance, which means our cells aren’t able to use insulin as they prefer and the cells stop responding properly. This leads to type 2 diabetes, which is often accompanied with excess weight gain and obesity. This coupled with a lack of exercise also leads to heart disease and even death.

Diabetes is no joke and we have do to something, now, to stop it. 

Like a knight in shining armor, a whole foods plant-based diet has been shown to not only improve blood sugar, but also prevent and even treat diabetes. All that from kale and some broccoli? Well, not quite, but almost! While you can’t survive on greens alone, a well-rounded, whole foods (junk-free) vegan diet is the way to go to save your blood sugar and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Even those with type 1 diabetes will still benefit from eating a plant-based diet because these foods support insulin function in the body.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman is a well-known expert on diabetes, along with Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Neal Barnard. Here are 5 foods they all agree on are amazing for a plant-based diet and for preventing diabetes:

1. Leafy Greens

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Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, and even plain romaine lettuce are all rich in nutrients that balance the blood sugar. They’re also packed with fiber, which helps improve insulin function since fiber slows down the release of sugar into the blood stream, while still allowing it to reach the cells. Fat can block insulin from reaching the cells properly, and sugar and fat combined is a sure-fire way to mess up insulin since fat blocks the sugar from reaching the cells, which means the sugar gets emptied back into the bloodstream where it causes further damage. Leafy greens have no sugar or fat, but plenty of magnesium to support your blood sugar, along with chlorophyll, iron, potassium, Vitamins A and C, and fiber. Enjoy them in a hearty, superfood salad, filling green moothie, soup, or any other yummy entree of your choosing. Higher leafy green consumption is associated with a 14 percent reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

2. Beans and Legumes

[caption id="attachment_148111" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]Rachael-Campbell-Lentil-Soup1 Vegetable Lentil Soup[/caption]

Beans and legumes are packed with magnesium, fiber, iron, and potassium. They’re also a rich source of plant-based protein which will benefit your insulin, unlike animal sources of protein that spike your insulin levels. Beans and legumes’ fiber content will also help slow down the release of their natural carbohydrates which will provide you with energy without the crash of carbs like white bread, sugar, and pasta will. Try chickpeas, which are a great source of protein and B vitamins, along with edamame, black beans, adzuki beans, lentils, and green peas.

3. Nuts

[caption id="attachment_148111" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Spinach-Feta-Wrap Spinach and Almond Feta Breakfast Wrap – Vegan[/caption]

Nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, and coconut, are all rich in fiber and healthy fats to slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream. They’re also low on the glycemic index (GI) and rich in protein, iron, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals. A little bit will go a long way, so don’t eat these like candy. They’re high in fats so a small handful (about an ounce) will do the trick. Have them in between meals or add them to your meals such as salads and oatmeal as a topping, or you can puree them to use within your meals, such as using cashew cream in place of dairy cream and dairy sauces.

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4. Seeds

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Seeds like pumpkin, chia, flax, sunflower, and hemp seeds are all rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, protein, fiber, and low GI as well. They’re also easy to sprinkle onto anything and can be consumed throughout the day in small servings. Aim for three tablespoons a day, evenly spread out between meals, or used at one time as an alternative protein source to beans and legumes for one of your meals.

5. Low GI Carbohydrates

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Low glycemic (GI) carbohydrates are also helpful for reducing diabetes risks. These include: non-starchy vegetables, root vegetables (with small amounts of white potatoes since they’re high GI), fresh fruits instead of dried fruits, and fiber-rich whole grains such as oatmeal, barley, quinoa, millet, rye, amaranth, and teff. Whole grains (not whole grain products) should be the only type of grains you eat, compared to low-fiber grains (white and yellow rice) which are rich in carbs but low in fiber, which will cause a spike in blood sugar quickly. Grains should have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving when you’re looking to manage your blood sugar. Avoid processed carbs like dried fruit snacks, fruity-flavored yogurts, refined bread products, cereals, granola bars, crackers, and chips.

Non-starchy veggies like broccoli, asparagus, bok choy and other cabbages, artichokes, onions, garlic, cauliflower, celery, zucchini, turnips, carrots, squash, jicama, and all leafy greens should make up the most of your meals for the best blood sugar, disease prevention, and weight maintenance benefits. Beneficial fruits include: berries, apples, yellow bananas, oranges, pears, grapefruit, lemons, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado, cantaloupe, and peppers, which are lower on the glycemic index than tropical fruits and dried fruits.

The takeaway- always go for 100 percent whole food sources of carbohydrates, which your body will break down much more slowly than processed carbs.

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How to Build a Diabetes Preventative Meal:

To build an effective, diabetes prevention meal, you’ll need to balance out how many carbs you eat and how many fats you eat. An easy equation to follow is: 2 parts non-starchy veggies and greens to 1 part beans and legumes or 1 part nuts and seeds, with 1 part whole grains. Add in one piece of fruit to your meals or as a snack a couple times throughout the day. This equation will give you a nice balance between carbs, fats, and proteins. Try out some of our fiber-rich recipes to build a low-GI, diabetes prevention meal to get you started!

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Let’s fight diabetes the right way- with a plant-based diet that hurts absolutely no one except for the biggest, most influential companies in the food industry that are secretly and slowly killing us!

Image Source: Andres Orjuela/Flickr