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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Joan

Diabetes is a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood sugar, resulting from problems in how insulin is produced, how insulin works, or both. Diabetes affects many parts of the body and is associated with serious complications, such as heart diseasestrokeblindnesskidney failure, and lower-limb amputation.

Whole food plant-based diets may be used to successfully prevent, treat, and in some cases even reverse Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can also be reversed with severe calorie restriction, but fortunately, reversal can also be achieved by simply eating healthier.

Complications from diabetes have been shown to lessen and even disappear once patients start eating plant-based. For example, one study found that diabetics suffering from painful neuropathy for years were cured within days with a plant-based diet. Lifestyle medicine can work so well that it may even be able to reverse diabetic retinopathy (blindness).

The standard American diet is linked to obesity and associated with diabetes risk.  Minimizing foods high in saturated fat, such as many meatdairy, and junk foods may help reduce the risk of both diabetes and gestational diabetes. Eggs may be particularly concerning–eating only one egg a week was associated with as much as nearly double the odds of getting diabetes. Fish, especially salmon, is one of the primary sources of industrial pollutants which have been associated with increased diabetes risk. Because industrial sugars are associated with obesity, a significant risk factor for diabetes, added sugar should be avoided. Erythritol appears to be a nontoxic sugar substitute.

A whole food plant based diet, in general, has been shown to be protective, but some foods may be especially helpful, such as Indian gooseberries (amla), coffee, soyflax seedsgreen tea, purple potatoes, broccoli sprouts, whole grains, vinegar, and beans. Beans may be especially beneficial when replacing meat or refined carbs, such as white rice. 

Depending on the variety, cinnamon may either be too toxic for consumption at high doses or ineffective at treating diabetes. 

A lifestyle approach focusing on a healthy, more plant-based diet coupled with exercise and weight loss (if needed) may prevent and reverse diabetes.

Image Credit: Jill Brown / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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