14/11/2015 12:22 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Here's Why You Should Fight Diabetes With Plant Power

Hand holding meter. Diabetes doing glucose level test. Vegetables in background
Piotr Adamowicz via Getty Images
Hand holding meter. Diabetes doing glucose level test. Vegetables in background

India has the second-largest population of people with diabetes in the world. It is reported that 65 million people in India have already been diagnosed with the disease, and if factors influencing this trend don't change, this number is set to rise.

It doesn't have to be this way. This World Diabetes Day, 14 November, is the perfect day to take steps to reduce our risk for diabetes -- a disease that results in an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, strokes, blindness and kidney disease and can even require the amputation of a toe, foot or leg. What's more, it is also possible to control or even reverse diabetes if we have it.

Research shows this may be as easy as eating healthy vegan foods and doing away with meat, eggs and dairy products.

"Eating processed meats and red meat can increase one's risk for type 2 diabetes by as much as 51%."

Studies show that there is a strong link between animal-based foods and diabetes. The Washington, DC-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) evaluated studies that looked at different kinds and levels of meat consumption and the risk for developing diabetes. It was found people who eat meat had a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes.

A long-term study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in America, for example, suggests that eating processed meats and red meat (in as small a quantity as one hot dog or sausage or two slices of bacon per day) can increase one's risk for type 2 diabetes -- the most common kind -- by as much as 51%.

Egg consumption also increases the risk for diabetes, according to a meta-analysis published in Atherosclerosis. Researchers found that those who consumed the most eggs had a 68% increased risk of developing diabetes.

Childhood-onset diabetes is considered to be linked to the consumption of animal products, too. A 2001 Finnish study showed that drinking cows' milk as a baby increased a child's susceptibility to type 1 diabetes.

As a nutritionist, mother and long-time vegan, I know that vegan (plant-based, non-dairy) foods are not only tasty, they're also the tools you need to fight or control diabetes.

Dr Neal Barnard, the founder of PCRM and the author of Dr Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs, has found that people with type 2 diabetes can control the disease and lose weight at the same time just by going vegan.

He placed volunteers with diabetes into two groups. One group was put on the typical non-vegetarian diet prescribed by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), and the other group was told to eat a low-fat vegan diet. By the end of the study, 43% of the people who ate low-fat vegan foods were able to cut back on their medications, compared to only 26% of those who followed the ADA's non-vegetarian diet. Those who ate a vegan diet also lost weight and lowered their cholesterol and blood pressure.

"[T]he main 'side effects' of plant-based foods are clear skin, increased energy, lower cholesterol and a longer life span."

Dr Barnard encourages diabetics -- and people with a high risk of developing the disease -- to eat low-fat plant-based foods and to avoid high-fat foods as well as foods with a high glycemic index, including sugar, white potatoes, most wheat flour products and most cold cereals. He suggests eating low-fat plant-based foods made with black-eyed or split peas, sweet potatoes, spinach, lentils and broccoli.

If you want to reduce your risk of developing diabetes and other illnesses -- and help animals and the environment at the same time -- commemorate World Diabetes Day by pledging to go vegan for at least 30 days. Going vegan is much easier than measuring and weighing foods and limiting the amount of carbohydrates that you consume. Vegan foods are certainly tastier than diabetes medications, and the main "side effects" of plant-based foods are clear skin, increased energy, lower cholesterol and a longer life span.

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