How to eat for diabetes

Diabetes is a “silent killer.” Here’s how a plant-based dietary pattern (not a strict diet) can be a healthier way to manage diabetes.

A diabetes recap

Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes is an autoimmune disease that generally develops in childhood or adolescence. The body can’t produce insulin and thus can’t regulate blood sugar. Insulin injections or an insulin pump is necessary to ensure the body has the right amount of insulin.

Type 2 diabetes, most commonly developed in adulthood, occurs when the body can’t properly use its own insulin—or not enough insulin is produced. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed with healthy eating and regular exercise alone, but may also require medications or insulin therapy.

Know the signs

Discovery is a crucial first step. Millions of people live with type 2 diabetes and don’t even know it.

People who are asymptomatic, haven’t followed up on symptoms (which can include frequent urination, blurry vision, and extreme thirst), or don’t often use the health care system may not get a diagnosis until they’ve had it for years. This may mean they need more intensive treatments than if the disease had been caught earlier.

Get the right care

Diabetes is a progressive condition, which means that treatment plans should evolve along with the disease. Behavioral modifications such as a plant-based diet may help with blood sugar control at first, but eventually more extensive treatments such as blood glucose monitoring or medication may become necessary.

What difference do plants make?

The increased soluble fiber in many plant-based foods such as Brussels sprouts, black beans, and root vegetables can slow carbohydrate absorption and bind glucose. This slower rate of absorption helps stabilize blood sugars.

In contrast, high amounts of refined sugar and carbohydrates spike glucose and cause the pancreas to produce extra insulin. Some of the extra glucose may be converted into triglycerides in the liver, and the fat may be shipped to the tissues.

Vegan or vegetarian diets are also typically higher in pulses (like such as barley or quinoa). The high magnesium content of these whole grains helps regulate glucose, improves insulin sensitivity, and controls energy metabolism.

Finally, vegetarians and vegans tend to consume fewer saturated fats. Since many meats contain more fat and calories, they may increase the risk of diabetes. In fact, some research suggests that red meat should be included in the list of diabetes risk factors.

Remember—“vegetarian” doesn’t always mean “healthy”

While a plant-based diet pattern is often higher in fiber, vitamins, and nutrients, it doesn’t guarantee weight loss or stable blood sugar levels. Check with your health care practitioner before adopting a new diet.

Consider supplements

Supplements to support healthy blood sugar include

  • protein
  • magnesium
  • peppermint
  • pharmaGABA
  • quercetin

The type and amount of supplemental support depend on your health, eating patterns, and lifestyle. Since supplements can interact with medications, it’s important to create an individualized plan with your health care practitioner.

By Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen