In search of more energy and better blood sugar control? A low-fat, plant-based, whole-food lifestyle might be the answer. Two diabetes advocates explain why this diet was a game changer for them.
Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one story.
In today’s world, diabetes nutrition has become complicated. The amount of advice — sometimes conflicting — can leave you feeling confused and hopeless, unsure of how to eat to control your blood sugar and minimize your risk for long-term complications of type 1 or 2 diabetes.
We’ve been living with type 1 diabetes for a combined total of 25 years and have experimented with both animal- and plant-based low-carbohydrate diets.
Without knowing it, we both ate ourselves into insulin resistance by eating diets high in fat and protein. Low energy, muscle soreness, anxiety, food cravings, and hard-to-control blood sugar plagued us.
In search of more energy and better blood sugar control, we transitioned to a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food lifestyle. Eating this diet dramatically improved our blood sugar control, reduced our A1C values, gave us tons of energy, and reduced our use of insulin by as much as 40 percent.
Plant-based, whole foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are among the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. They’re packed with six important classes of nutrients, including:
Eating a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet is a simple way to maximize your nutrient intake, which reduces total body inflammation, and boost the health of all tissues in your body.
For those living with diabetes, the right diet is essential. Always check with your doctor before starting a new routine.
While this plan may not be right for everyone, it was a game changer for us. Here are three reasons why we feel we’re thriving on a low-fat, plant-based eating plan.
Whole, unprocessed plant foods are loaded with water and fiber, which distends your stomach and sends a signal to your brain to stop eating before you’ve consumed too many calories.
So, you become “mechanically full” before you become “calorically full,” which is a simple way to prevent against eating too many calories.
Our favorite whole foods include:
- Legumes: pinto beans, navy beans, split peas, lentils, green peas
- Intact whole grains: brown rice, millet, teff, barley
- Non-starchy vegetables: zucchini, broccoli, carrots, beets, mushrooms
- Leafy greens: lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, arugula
- Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, yams, corn
- Fruits: apples, pears, blueberries, mangos
- Herbs and spices: turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, paprika
Eating a low-carb diet (which is typical for those living with diabetes) can actually reduce your energy levels over time, because there’s often insufficient glucose for your brain and muscles.
Those who follow a strict low-carb diet not only limit foods like fruit and potatoes, but also limit vegetables like bell peppers and tomatoes, because even these whole foods can put them over their allotted daily carbohydrate intake.
Glucose is a fuel for all tissues in your body, so when you implement more whole carbohydrate-rich foods into your meal plan — like fresh fruit — your brain and muscles receive an adequate supply of glucose.
That makes you feel more mentally alert and energetic. We’ve found that eating a plant-rich diet is one of the simplest things we can do to dramatically — and immediately — increase our energy levels.
In addition to managing our diabetes, there are a host of other potential benefits of this diet. Research points to the fact that low-fat, plant-based, whole-food nutrition is one of the most effective ways to minimize your risk for chronic diseases, including:
- cardiovascular disease
- high cholesterol
- fatty liver
- kidney failure
- peripheral neuropathy
- Alzheimer’s disease
What a day on this diet looks like for us
Robby’s sample day
- Breakfast: 1 Keitt mango, 1 medium papaya, 1 head of romaine lettuce
- Lunch: 2 Keitt mangoes, 2 bell peppers, 1 bag of arugula
- Afternoon snack: 1 cup wild blueberries, 1/2 Keitt mango, 1/2 head of cauliflower
- Dinner: fall arugula salad
Cyrus’ sample day
- Breakfast: 1 raw plantain, 1/2 Maradol papaya
- Lunch: 2 raw plantains, 2 mangoes, 1 bowl cooked quinoa
- Afternoon snack: 1/2 Maradol papaya, a few tomatoes
- Dinner: large salad containing 3–4 handfuls of spinach, 1/2 red onion, shredded zucchini, 2–3 tomatoes, 1/2 cup garbanzo beans, 1 shredded large carrot, 2 cucumbers, 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar, and spices including curry powder, cumin, smoked paprika, black pepper, or cayenne pepper
- Dessert: frozen pineapple ice cream or an acai bowl
If you’re interested in minimizing your risk for diabetes complications, losing weight, gaining energy, eating without restrictions, and saying goodbye to intense food cravings, then low-fat, plant-based, whole-food nutrition may be just the answer you’ve been looking for. It was for us.
Cyrus Khambatta, PhD, and Robby Barbaro are the co-founders of Mastering Diabetes, a coaching program that reverses insulin resistance via low-fat, plant-based, whole-food nutrition. Cyrus has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002 and has an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from UC Berkeley. Robby was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2000 and has been living a plant-based lifestyle since 2006. He worked at Forks Over Knives for six years, is studying toward a master’s in public health, and enjoys sharing his lifestyle on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.