Diabetes is a serious health issue that’s swept our nation for decades now. Type 1 can be developed through genetics, an autoimmune disease, and other possible health issues that aren’t always easy to spot, while Type 2 can be developed genetically and through lifestyle choices that cause insulin resistance, or an autoimmune disease as well. Type 2 often happens because the pancreas stops producing insulin altogether, or the body isn’t able to use insulin efficiently. Insulin is necessary for aiding in blood sugar management, and when too much or not enough is used or produced within the body, diabetes can result.
The more we learn about health and diabetes, the more we understand that symptoms and health issues of both Type 1 and Type 2 forms of the disease can be managed. Lifestyle factors such as a lack of exercise, overall poor diet, and even certain, specific food choices (animal proteins, sugar, refined grains, and an overall highly processed diet) all seem to be contributing factors to Type 2 diabetes and are also harmful to those with Type 1 looking to manage their blood sugar and prevent certain health issues, such as heart problems or weight gain.
Remarkably, a simple and healthy whole food plant-based diet rich in certain nutrients and low in inflammation seems to be a powerful weapon at preventing symptoms in those with Type 1 and 2, and has even been shown to completely prevent and treat Type 2 diabetes altogether. The reason diet is such a powerful influence in the treatment of diabetes is because of certain nutrients that the body needs to regulate blood sugar, and also to prevent inflammation (a triggering factor for diabetes). Though staying active, getting enough sleep, and managing stress are also important, improving dietary choice is one of the biggest factors in overall diabetes management and prevention.
Nutrients from Plant-Based Foods Help Everyone, Especially Those With Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
If you have Type 1 diabetes, obtaining certain nutrients is still important to focus on even though the disease is not preventable. A diet rich in nutrients can greatly contribute to a healthier you, especially when eaten from whole food sources. The foods suggested here are also anti-inflammatory and can assist with overall wellness, outside of just your blood sugar. For example, heart health, digestive health, arterial health and more, are just some of the benefits of embracing foods from the list of nutrients below. For those with Type 2, have hope that diet can be a strong weapon against the disease that’s developed largely through lifestyle factors alone.
Food is a simple form of medicine we all have in our medicine cabinets when we give it the chance to work for us and not against us. Even if you don’t have diabetes, there are some core nutrients to focus on to take care of your blood sugar, especially if diabetes runs in your family or you suffer blood sugar problems that could lead to diabetes later in life. You’ll be pleased to know that despite popular belief, all sources of carbohydrates are not the enemy, and maybe even surprised that animal foods aren’t the best option for obtaining your protein. Check out these important nutrients that are true superfoods for your health and blood sugar and be well on your way to a healthier you!
Despite the fact that we’re often told lean animal proteins will help prevent and treat diabetes, this is simply not true according to science. In fact, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that whole grains, beans, legumes, leafy greens, and lots of vegetables be consumed in replacement for animal proteins, especially when it comes to preventing and treating Type 2 diabetes. Some nuts and seeds such as raw almonds, walnuts, hemp, flax, chia, and pumpkin seeds are also filled with heart-healthy benefits, along with natural protein. Even soy products like non-GMO tofu, edamame, or tempeh can make great protein choices to replace animal foods and are less processed than soy burgers or soy protein powders that you’ll want to avoid.
Studies also show that plant-based foods are better than the meat, dairy, and egg choices recommended in the American Diabetics Association guidelines (influenced by the government with interest in animal production, mind you). Why? Plant-based proteins are less inflammatory, filled with more fiber to regulate blood sugar and do not contribute to inflammation like animal proteins do. Also see some of our protein-packed articles for more information on how to work healthier, plant-based protein options into your diet.
Magnesium is an important mineral that’s responsible for many tasks within the body. It has a strong influence on blood sugar management, along with a host of enzymatic processes that you need to stay healthy and feel your best. Diets heavy in processed foods, caffeine, animal products, and sugar are all usually deficient in magnesium. Why? Because these diets lack whole, plant-based foods, which are the largest source of magnesium of all foods out there. Magnesium not only helps regulate blood sugar, but can also impact sugar cravings, mood, energy, and even headaches, sleep, and regularity. Some of the most magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, cacao, root vegetables, seaweed, soy and other beans, and some varieties of legumes and grains. See more about magnesium and how to include more in your diet.
This mineral is also responsible for healthy insulin production in the body. Chromium helps regulate blood sugar, prevent sugar cravings, and influences how insulin is used in the body overall. Chromium is another mineral often missing in diets rich in processed foods, animal protein, and a high sugar diet. This vital mineral is found abundantly in leafy greens, vegetables such as broccoli and green beans, nuts, seeds, seaweed, nuts, beans, legumes, whole grains (especially oats and barley), brewer’s and nutritional yeast, and once again, cacao. It’s even found in some fruits such as tomatoes and spices like black pepper and cinnamon. Though chromium is technically found in a few animal proteins, plant-based sources such as those listed here largely outweigh the amounts found in animal sources and don’t come with the health or environmental risks either.
Chlorophyll might not be the first thing diabetics consider, but it’s a powerful nutrient for a variety of health factors. Chlorophyll is a molecule found abundantly in all green plants, and even some seeds such as pumpkin and hemp seeds. So how does chlorophyll actually influence blood sugar? Chlorophyll not only cleanses the blood and reduces inflammation, but also contains magnesium and blood sugar-regulating properties. The deeper the green hue in a food, the more chlorophyll it contains. While you need a variety of plant-based foods in your diet for healthy blood sugar, never forget the power that green foods have on your health. Kale, spinach, spirulina, chard, arugula, broccoli, hemp, avocado, pumpkin seeds, and herbs like parsley and cilantro are all great options. Seaweed such as dulse and algae like chlorella are also great options as well. Not only are these foods healthy, cleansing, and regulating, but they’re also preventative, even when it comes to fighting cancer.
Fiber is a win-win when it comes to your health, no matter what you’re trying to improve. But fiber and blood sugar? It’s not just a recommendation, but a necessity! Fiber slows down your blood sugar, enhances regularity, and also prevents heart disease. It helps keep you full, makes it easier to manage your weight, and can also keep your body free from cholesterol and toxic build-up. One reason sugar is so harsh on the body is because it’s an empty carb. Sugar has no nutritional value, but whole fruits, vegetables, whole, unprocessed grains, root vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes all have a large percentage of carbohydrates that come from fiber. This means they slow down during digestion and absorption so that you don’t get that sugar rush (an insulin surge) that you do from candy, sweets, and even sugary syrups.
Always aim to fill your plate with fiber-rich foods not only to regulate your appetite but also protect your body from disease. To learn more about some foods that can help you manage your blood sugar further, see 5 Foods That Lower Your Blood Sugar Quickly and Curb Your Cravings for Sugar With These Naturally Sweet Foods. We also invite you to see How to Treat Diabetes by Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org for more information and research.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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