Food & Drink Magazine

Fighting Diabetes With A Plant Based Diet

By Chuck Underwood @brandnewvegan

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It’s the 7th leading killer in the US – and by the year 2030 … it’s expected to be the 7th leading killer in the WORLD.

  • According to this study published in JAMA, nearly 50% of all adults living in the U.S. have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
  • Almost half of all adults in China – close to 500 million people – have prediabetes.
  • Unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity are driving increasing rates of obesity in China
  • More than one-third of adults in China are overweight, while 7% of adults are obese.
  • Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.
  • 40% of American adults will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime
  • More kids than ever have Type 2 Diabetes

Now I realize that statistics can often look bleak – so how real IS this epidemic?

In my last job, in addition to my normal job duties, I volunteered to join a special program taught by our local Fire Department to become a certified Emergency Responder.  In the 3 yrs I participated in the program – calls for diabetic emergencies outweighed all others.

I never really thought about diabetes before that.

Even when I noticed all the new SHARPS containers in the bathrooms, or the Glucose Gel that was in our Med Kits.  But one day I jokingly snuck up on a co-worker as she was standing by her locker – to scare her – because I’m a jerk like that sometimes  🙂   just as she was giving herself an insulin shot. 

Diabetes was all around me and I just never noticed.  It’s very real.   

Several weeks ago, at my new job, one of my new work buddies was out all week as he was in the hospital in a diabetic coma.  Even my 55yr old neighbor across the street was in the ER last week for a diabetic emergency, as his Blood Glucose was reported to have been over 600.

It’s real, and it’s everywhere you look.  Go to the grocery store or your local Walmart and just look at how many people are riding around on those motorized buggies.  Granted they’re probably not ALL diabetic – but I’d be willing to bet many of them are.

And what is the one thing all these people have in common?  The one little thing that ties everyone of them together, including the folks in China?

The Standard American Diet

Fighting Diabetes With A Plant Based Diet

The standard american diet is a diet of mainly animal protein, fast food, convenience foods, heat n eat frozen meals, or other forms of highly processed, food-like substances.  In other words – a diet that is very high in protein, very high in fat, and vey high in sugar.

And this is the same diet the people in China and India are switching to as they become more westernized.

China USED to eat a relatively low-fat diet – with rice being their main source of calories.  But with the introduction of Americanized Fast Food (KFC in 1987, McDonalds in 1990, Walmart in 1997) their rates of Type 2 Diabetes has skyrocketed.

In my eCornell Plant-Based Nutrition class,  I was asked to write a response to this question “Does Nutrition play a role in the development of Diabetes “?   This blog post is the result of that assignment. 

Nutrition has EVERYTHING to do with Diabetes!


We’re eating way too much crap and not enough REAL food!

Specifically not enough PLANT BASED foods that are naturally high in carbs and low in fat.

Of course everyone will say to cut back on the carbs and sugar.  Because cutting back on the carbs has always been the common response to treating Type 2 diabetes.  Carbs cause your blood glucose levels to rise, so cut back on the carbs and the glucose levels stay low.

But recently Doctors are discovering that there’s a little more to it than that.

It’s the FAT that seems to be the problem, not the carbs. 

Eating a diet high in fat increases insulin resistance.  The more fat there is clogging up the insulin receptors, the harder it is for insulin to do its job, as explained in this video by Dr. Michael Greger.

But it’s not just any fat, it’s the saturated fat from animal products that’s the main problem.  Dr. Greger explained that saturated fat – found mostly in meat, dairy, and eggs actually CAUSED insulin resistance while unsaturated fat, found mostly in whole/plant-based food like nuts, olives, and avocados actually IMPROVED insulin sensitivity.

This correlates perfectly with an observational study I read on China.  As the consumption of carbs from their native diet of rice dropped over the years, and their consumption of fat from Americanized Fast Food and meat protein increased, so did their rates of Diabetes.

Never heard of this before?  Neither had I.

Two separate studies by a  Dr HP Himsworth and Dr. IM Rabinowitch dating back to the 1930’s show the exact same relationship.   The more carbs you eat – the less insulin (if any) you will need if you are Diabetic.  While the more fat you eat, the greater your chance of contracting diabetes, if not dying from it.

We’ve known this for almost a century now!

But yet the information is still not getting out to the masses where it’s needed.

Our typical approach to Diabetes is to ‘cut the carbs’ to lower the blood sugar, even though studies dating back almost a decade show that a high carb/low-fat diet can lower glucose levels even better and faster than drugs, as proven by Dr Neal Barnard.

It wasn’t until more advanced techniques using MRI machines that we could actually look into the muscle and see this happening for ourselves.

I mean it really makes so much sense when you think about it.

Why is your blood sugar so high? Not because you’re eating too many carbs…not that you’re NOT making insulin…..but because the insulin isn’t working anymore!  The insulin isn’t the problem at all – it’s all that FAT around your muscle cells.

Insulin’s job is to attach itself to a glucose (sugar) molecule and transport it to the cell that needs it – and then unlock the door (insulin receptor), which opens the cell to allow the glucose inside. But if that door or keyhole is so gummed up with fat – it’s not going to work.  So the sugar has no where else to go – except back into the bloodstream.

Eating a low-fat, plant-based diet will help clear off the fat around those insulin receptors allowing them to work again, allowing the sugar to once again enter the muscles cells to be used immediately for energy or stored in the form of glycogen.

I think it was Dr McDougall who said “This is just Stupid Simple”.  And it is.

Eat carbs, THE GOOD CARBS, low on the glycemic scale, and leave the oils and meats and butter alone.

Eat the beans, and the wheat, and the corn, and the potatoes, and the rice that SO many cultures have thrived on for centuries.  Whole foods, complex carbs, with lots of fiber.

 “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.  Michael Pollan


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