A Super Healthy Plant-Based Diet vs. Diabetes

We’ve known that type 2 diabetes could be reversed by an extreme reduction in food intake for nearly a century and a half, since the 1870 siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. This has been demonstrated experimentally. By starving people enough, you can reverse diabetes. Diabetes specialists “have long known that the tiny proportion of iron-willed people [with diabetes] who can substantially decrease their weight and maintain this, can exhibit a return to normal metabolism.”

“A label is required to allow doctors to recognize and appropriately manage this subgroup who were willing to do anything to get rid of their diabetes. These are the Health Motivated. At the time of diagnosis, the Health-Motivated individuals will benefit from being advised that they are likely to be able to reverse their diabetes completely” by losing up to one-fifth of their body weight. And then—and only then—if they “show that they are not sufficiently strongly motivated should the routine guidelines for managing Type 2 diabetes be rolled out,” which include lots of drugs. Unfortunately, the control of blood sugar with medication has proven to be unsustainable and may actually exacerbate obesity, making us put on more weight and, thus, creating a vicious cycle.

There has got to be a better way.

Instead of starving oneself by eating less food, what if we just ate better food? What if we ate a diet that emphasizes all-you-can-eat greens, lots of vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and some whole grains, and is at least 90 percent plant-based? This would be a diet including at least one big salad every day (like a pound of raw greens), veggie-bean soup, a handful of nuts and seeds, fruit at every meal, a pound of cooked greens, and some whole grains, but no refined grains, junk food, or oil, and a restriction on animal products. Thirteen diabetic men and women followed this diet for an average of seven months.

How did they do?

Hemoglobin A1C is considered the best measure of blood sugar control. Below six is normal—that is, non-diabetic. The official American Diabetes Association target, however, is to get diabetics at least down to seven. Anything above seven is uncontrolled diabetes. In my video Reversing Diabetes with Food, you can see a stunning chart that plots how the study participants’ hemoglobin A1C levels responded over time after they start plowing in the plants. All subjects had had diabetes for at least seven years, and they started off with hemoglobin A1C levels ranging from as low as 6 to as high as 12. After they began following the plant-heavy diet,  their levels consistently dropped, month after month. After about seven months, their average A1C dropped from a diabetic 8.2 down to a non-diabetic 5.8. The majority dropped down to normal, and this is after dropping most of their medications.

Now, this was a pilot study with only a handful of people, no control group, and including only people who could actually stick to the diet—essentially, a retrospective case series, considered one of the weakest forms of published evidence. However, the magnitude of the effect they found indicates that a high nutrient-density diet can be very effective for some people.


In Reversing Diabetes with Surgery, another one of my videos, I discussed how type 2 diabetes can be reversed with an extremely low-calorie diet. And, as I’ve just shown, type 2 diabetes can also be reversed with an extremely healthy diet—but is that because it is also low in calories? That’s the million-dollar question I answer in Diabetes Reversal: Is It the Calories or the Food?.

You may be aware that I’ve touched previously on the ability of healthy diets to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. (See Plant-Based Diets and Diabetes and Plant-Based Diets for Diabetes if you haven’t yet watched those videos or want a refresher.) It’s so exciting to be plugging in the final puzzle pieces.

What about the benefits of blood sugar medications and more moderate diets? I discuss that topic in When Drugs and Diets Don’t Lower Diabetes Deaths.

Other videos of interest include:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

 

The Spice Proven to Benefit Prediabetes

In my video Turmeric Curcumin for Prediabetes, I talk about “Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes,” an extraordinary study published in the journal of the American Diabetes Association. In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of folks diagnosed with prediabetes, half of the subjects got supplements of curcumin, the yellow pigment in the spice turmeric and curry powder, while the other half got identical-looking placebos, and the researchers just followed them for nine months to see who ended up with diabetes.

After nine months of treatment, 16 percent of subjects in the placebo group went on to get full-blown diabetes. How many in the curcumin group? None. The curcumin group saw a significant improvement in fasting blood sugars, glucose tolerance, hemoglobin A1C, insulin sensitivity and pancreatic insulin-producing beta cell function (measured two different ways.)

What if you already have diabetes? Another study found the same beneficial effects—and at a fraction of the dose. The prediabetes study mentioned above used the equivalent of a quarter cup of turmeric a day, whereas this other study used only about a teaspoon’s worth, which is doable through diet rather than supplements.

What’s particularly interesting here is the purported mechanism: Fat in the bloodstream plays “an important role in the development of insulin resistance and ultimately type 2 diabetes.” Fat builds up inside your muscle cells and gums up the works, and all the inflammation this causes interferes with insulin signaling. However, curcumin decreases fat levels in the blood, making this the first study to show that these turmeric spice compounds may have an anti-diabetic effect.

So, if you are pre-diabetic, it might be a good idea to add turmeric to your diet, but it’s important to recognize that prediabetes is a disease in itself, increasing the risk of death, cancer, heart disease, and vision loss. So, it’s not enough to just prevent progression to full-blown diabetes when prediabetes may be cured completely with a healthy plant-based diet.

As was the case in the smoker pee study I covered in Carcinogen-Blocking Effects of Turmeric, those who abuse their bodies with unhealthy diets can lower their risk by eating powerful plants. Of course, it’s better to cut the crap out altogether. Indeed, if just one plant can have that effect, what about a whole diet composed of plants? Watch Plant-Based Diets and Diabetes and How May Plants Protect Against Diabetes? to get the inside scoop.


Interested in learning more about how fat is involved in the development of diabetes? See:

For more on treating prediabetes and preventing it in the first place, check out:

Diabetes is not the only reason I encourage everyone to consume a quarter teaspoon of turmeric every day. Learn more with these videos:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Plant-Based Diets Put to the Test for Diabetes

My Why Is Meat a Risk Factor for Diabetes? video shows how meat may play a role in increasing the risk of diabetes, and How May Plants Protect Against  Diabetes? and Plant-Based Diets and Diabetes discuss the potential protective role of healthy plant foods. But plant-based diets not only appear to guard against getting diabetes in the first place, they may successfully treat the disease better than the diabetic diets patients typically are placed on, benefiting both weight and cholesterol.

Diets based on whole plant foods can result in significant weight loss without limiting portion size or counting calories, because plant foods tend to be so calorically dilute. In my video Plant-Based Diets for Diabetes, you can see the volume of 100 calories of broccoli, tomatoes, and strawberries compared to 100 calories of chicken, cheese, or fish. People just can’t seem to eat enough of the plant foods to compensate for the calorie deficit, so they lose weight eating whole plant foods.

Most importantly, a plant-based diet works better. A plant-based diet beat out the conventional American Diabetes Association diet in a head-to-head, randomized, controlled clinical trial, without restricting portions and without calorie- or carb-counting. A review of all such studies found that those following plant-based diets experience improved reductions in blood sugars, body weight, and cardiovascular risk, compared with those on diets including animal products.

Cardiovascular risk is what kills diabetics the most. They’re more likely to get strokes, more likely to suffer heart failure. In fact, “[d]iabetes has been proposed as a coronary heart disease risk equivalent, which means diabetic patients without a history of coronary disease have an equivalent risk to that of nondiabetic individuals with confirmed heart disease.”

A newer study used a technique to actually measure insulin sensitivity. It improved on both diets in the first three months, but then the vegetarian diet pulled ahead. The researchers also found that the LDL cholesterol fell significantly in the vegetarian group. Indeed, that’s what we see when people are put on plant-based diets: Cholesterol comes down so much it can actually reverse the atherosclerosis progression—that is, reverse the progression of heart disease.

We know about the beneficial effect of a vegetarian diet on controlling weight, blood sugars, cholesterol, insulin sensitivity, and oxidative stress compared to conventional diabetic diets, but what about quality of life and mental health? How did people feel after making such a dramatic change in their diets? In a randomized, controlled trial, study subjects were assigned either to a plant-based diet group or a control group. The plant-based group ate vegetables, grains, beans, fruits, and nuts with animal products limited to a maximum of one daily portion of low-fat yogurt. The control group followed an official diabetes diet.

Quality of life improved on both diets in the first three months, but, within six months, the plant-based group clearly pulled ahead. The same results were seen with depression scores: They dropped in both groups in the first three months, but started to rebound in the control group.

The bottom line is that the more plant-based diet “led to a greater improvement in quality of life and mood. Patients consuming a vegetarian diet also felt less constrained than those consuming the conventional diet.” People actually felt the conventional diabetic diet was more restrictive than the plant-based diet. Disinhibition decreased with a vegetarian diet, meaning those eating vegetarian were less likely to binge, and the subjects in the vegetarian group tended to feel less hungry. All of this helps with sustainability in the long term, which is, of course, critical for any dietary change. So, not only do plant-based diets appear to work better, but they may be easier to stick to. And, with the improvement in mood, patients may exhibit desired improvements not only in physical, but also in mental, health.


For those seeking a deeper understanding of what diabetes really is and what causes it, check out How Not to Die from Diabetes and this series of videos:

Thankfully, not only can diabetes be reversed, but so can some of its complications. See Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed? and, for diabetic neuropathy, my live annual review From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food.

Of course, preventing it is better:

There are some foods that may increase the risk:

And others that may help:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: