Evidence suggests that a plant-based diet may help to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. This is largely due to the fact that plant-based diets decrease insulin resistance, which is how well our bodies are able to use their own insulin and keep blood sugar levels normal.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, and follow a plant-based diet or plan to switch to one, it is also important to think about how you plan your meals and snacks. Finding balance in the plant-based diet for diabetes is more important than worrying about individual foods and how they affect your blood sugars. The plant-based diet for diabetes, like any other diet, should focus on the overall balance.
Ways to improve balance in the plant-based diet for diabetes management
There are three things to make sure you include in every meal or snack when using a plant-based diet for diabetes management: protein, fat, and fiber. These nutrients slow down digestion, which slows the release of sugars into the blood. Our blood sugars naturally fluctuate up and down based on a multitude of factors, including what we eat. When there is a mix of protein, fat, and fiber on our plate, the body is better able to keep blood sugars stable and limit drastic blood sugar spikes.
- Protein: Plant-based protein sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, tofu, tempeh.
- Fat: Focus on heart-healthy fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, and seed oils such as olive oil.
- Fiber: High-fiber foods are less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar, because fiber is a part of carbohydrates that our bodies don’t absorb. This means that when reading nutrition labels, you can subtract the amount of fiber from the total amount of carbohydrates. Good sources of fiber are fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
A good way to follow these suggestions is to use the balanced plate method. It is an easy visual to use when planning out your meals.
The balanced plate provides a guide of how to fit foods in the different sections, without dictating which specific foods they must be. In this sense, the plate shows that all foods can fit, as long as we are balancing them out in our meals.
Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with protein, and a quarter with starches.
Note: If you are counting carbohydrates as part of your diabetes management, it is important to know that legumes contain carbohydrates. Even though they fit in the protein section of your plate, their carbohydrate content must be added to your total carbohydrate intake.
You can also use your hands to estimate portion sizes for different foods. This is a simple and practical method of portion control, because our hands are with us all the time! To prevent blood sugars from spiking, make sure you are sticking to an appropriate size of starch at your meal.
Using your hands, that amount would be the size of your fist. When it comes to vegetables, serve yourself as much as would fit in both your hands. And for the protein foods, this would mean the size of your palm.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, speak with your diabetes educator before making any diet or lifestyle changes like switching to a plant-based diet. Follow the recommendations of your diabetes management team, take any medications as prescribed, and test your blood sugars as directed.
What are some of your balanced plant-based meal and/or snack ideas that could be used to keep blood sugars stable? Share with us in the comments below!
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