Updated: Nov 18, 2022
Hello, many of you may be new to my blog, so I just wanted to introduce myself. I'm Lucy, a registered dietitian with a Master's in Public Health. Because of my health degrees, I love to share my knowledge about optimal nutrition and lifestyle because I really believe nutrition information should be available to everyone. So I hope you help this blog very informative and helpful! If you are someone who wants to connect about how I can support and encourage you as you transition to a more plant-based diet, then I'd love to touch base about my Ditch-the-Disease Program.
Someone you know has type 2 diabetes. This is not a question, but a statement. According to Diabetes Canada, 1 in 3 Canadians has either diabetes or prediabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 327 Billion dollars were spent on diabetes healthcare or lost in reduced productivity in 2017.
Still, many people are resigned to the fact that this is a normal part of aging. Many think that it is genetic, not realizing that it's often the lifestyle of your parents that they passed down to you that increases your likelihood, rather than their genes.
Other people have insulin resistance and are categorized as prediabetic or may be given a diagnosis of Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrom (PCOS). Others have Type 1 Diabetes and yet are having to take more and more insulin as they age because they are developing underlying insulin resistance. If any of these are true, this article is still for you.
So what causes Insulin Resistance? Well, according to the research, it is actually a buildup of fat in our cells that keep our insulin receptors from working properly. It's like having gum in your door lock. Insulin is the key to let glucose in, but insulin can't work properly with all that gum (aka FAT) in the way.
Many people believe low-carbohydrate diets are the solution to insulin resistance. That's like trying to reduce the flow of glucose that is trying to get through the door, rather than getting rid of the gum that is keeping the door from working properly.
The reality is that you need to reduce your dietary sources of fat if you want to see improvements in your blood glucose and Hemoglobin A1C.
What diet is naturally low in fat and refined carbohydrates? You got it, a plant-based diet. Here are my 3 tips that will help you prevent and even reverse insulin resistance so that you can go back to feeling great and being medication-free, or at least greatly reduced.
#1 Fast from Fat
As mentioned, fat is the culprit in creating insulin resistance in our cells. In order to begin the process of reversing type 2 diabetes, you need to start dramatically reducing the amount of dietary fat you are consuming.
What foods contain the highest levels of fat in our diet? Meat (all varieties), cheese, dairy, butter, processed foods, oil, sweets/desserts, fried foods, pastries and pies, and coconut milk. If that seems like ALL THE GOODIES, then you're probably right. But just because I recommend against these foods, doesn't mean you won't be able to enjoy a crispy potato wedge or sweet brownie again. It's all about the ingredients! Read to the end if you want to learn some tips for going low-fat.
According to the experts at Mastering Diabetes, our ideal fat intake for reversing insulin resistance should be 30 grams or less. To help you gauge how much that is, 1 small cube (1 oz) of cheddar cheese has approximately 10 grams of fat in it.
Are all fats equal? No, trans fat, which sneaks into processed foods under the label "partially hydrogenated yada yada oil" is the worst. Saturated fat which is found mainly in animal products and coconut products, and processed foods laden with butter and/or palm oil is also disease-promoting. Fat that is liquid at room temperature, aka oil, is calorie-dense, and therefore should still be used sparingly. The best fat sources are those packaged with fiber and nutrients, like the fat found in whole nuts, flaxseed, chia, and other seeds, and even small amounts of avocado and coconut can be acceptable if eaten in moderation.
It may seem challenging to reduce fat, and if you are eating the standard American diet or standard Canadian diet, then you will likely not be able to reduce fat to below 30 grams a day. The best way to do this is by adopting a low-fat, plant-based diet.
The wonderful thing is that plant-based diets are also RICH in phytonutrients (plant-specific nutrients), like vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants like beta carotene which protect our bodies against the ravages of environmental, food, and biological toxins and also help protect against diabetes, among other diseases.
Not only that, but plant-based diets are usually very SATISFYING which is because we are giving our bodies the carbohydrates they need to function. Whole foods are packaged in fiber which also stretches our stomachs and leads to satiety after meals as well. That's what's coming up next.
#2 Fill up on Fiber
Have you heard the hype? Fiber is the best thing you can gift your digestive tract. Where does it come from? Hint, it's not the Metamucil bottle.
Fiber is the term used to describe the substances in plants that help them keep their shape (yes, fiber is ONLY found in plants, there's no high-fiber milk or cheese out there). They are indigestible to us but very digestible to our gut bacteria. Want to learn more about the benefits of feeding our gut bacteria fiber? Read my blog on postbiotics here.
When it comes to insulin resistance, fiber is our friend because it acts similar to a slow-release pill. Just like a slow-release painkiller gets digested over many hours, glucose is also held in a matrix of fiber that keeps it from being released all at once.
So if you want to manage your insulin resistance, eating foods that are held in a matrix of fiber is going to be helpful. What kind of food is this? Well, plants of course! Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, tubers, whole grains, nuts, and seeds and you will likely see fewer insulin spikes after eating due to the fiber.
Now, if you have very elevated blood glucose and A1C, then you may want to hold off on eating tons of fruit until you have been eating a low-fat diet for a few weeks or months. This gives your body time to clear out those locks so that the natural sugar in fruit can be absorbed. However, if you are only mildly resistant, have been eating low-fat for a while, or are using this to prevent diabetes, then there is literally no limit to the amount of fruit you can eat. It has fiber, nutrients, and water along with sugar, which makes it a perfect package for our bodies.
Now, mainstream nutrition is right about this. People with diabetes are generally intolerant to sources of carbohydrates that are refined (aka they don't come packaged with fiber). This means that I do still advise people with diabetes to avoid processed foods as much as possible. Stick to real baked potatoes rather than chips. Sprouted whole grain bread rather than white bread. Real fruit, rather than fruit bars or drinks. Brown rice and other grains, rather than white, etc.
#3 Get Excited about Exercise
If you are limited in your ability to move due to weight or joint pain, don't worry, improving your diet can still lead to weight loss and improvements in blood sugar. However, if you are able, exercise can bring the extra boost to help you improve insulin resistance and get healthy again.
Start by taking an interest in exercise. Research what kinds of exercise sound fun to you; is it tennis? Walking with friends? Going to the pool for a class? or doing YouTube workouts in the seclusion of your home? Keeping exercise fun and enjoyable is the key to maintaining it long-term.
Next, start by doing it at a manageable level for you. Is 3 days manageable? Then work up to 5-7 days a week. It doesn't need to be super long or rigorous. Even a 30-60 minute walk per day can improve blood sugar control and reduce A1C.
Lastly, vary it if you can. There are benefits to different types of exercise. Alternating between aerobics (walking, dancing, swimming), resistance (weights and muscle building), and stretching/flexibility all benefit your body and your blood glucose control.
Tips for going low-fat
Go plant-based. Plants have enough fat to ensure you don't become deficient in the good kinds of fat, but not so much that you end up storing much of it. Almost all of it you consume will be used, rather than stored.
Shop the produce aisle. Produce is naturally low in oil and there are so many oil-free recipes out there to help you learn how to prepare them (Try 21 Day Vegan Kickstart from PCRM for a bunch of free recipes). Make your own salad dressings using vinegar and nut butter to avoid oil and saturated fats.
Avoid almost all processed foods. Even if the product says "low-fat", it will likely make up for that by adding refined carbohydrates and other unhelpful food compounds. If you buy processed foods, look for things that are close to how they are grown in nature. I.E. sodium-free canned beans, granola bars with intact nuts and grains and minimal sweetener, whole-wheat pasta, precooked grains, etc.
Invest in an air fryer. This way you can still enjoy the crispy texture of fried foods without all the fat.
Make nice cream out of frozen fruit rather than buying ice cream and use cashews to make creamy cheese-like sauces for pasta.
Make your own desserts using whole food ingredients (black bean brownies, or snickers dates) rather than buying cookies, pastries, and other sweets from the store.
Swap meat for beans, tofu, edamame, soy curls, seitan, or other low-fat meat alternatives.
Rather than eating fish for healthy omega-3 oil, eat flaxseed, chia, sea plants, or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
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