Nutrition, Plant-based Eating, Prediabetes/Diabetes, Heart Disease & Weight Management, Sustainable Nutrition

Plant-based and higher carb diet may be better for blood sugar

Carbs are on my mind this week.

It’s Passover, and we can’t partake in anything leavened- flour that has touched water for more than 18 seconds. So here are a couple examples of my current intake:

Matzah with almond-based cream cheese.

Matzah with hummus.

Matzah with pizza sauce.

Matzah with peanut butter.

Matzah ball soup.

Matzah desserts.

green matzahred jelly matzah

You get the point. Matzah has touched water for less than 17 seconds. So there you are, folks. Matzah for days.

family photo
Dr. P, Baby Bee, and me before Passover dinner.

I went to Le Pain Quotidian on Monday with a mommy friend and gave away the delicious, thick rye bread that came with my meal. It was a sad day.

For those of us that have blood sugar issues, we may feel like this much of the time- giving away the good, free bread in tragic repetition. But it may not have to be like this.

As a Certified Diabetes Educator, I’ve bitterly battled many a-blood-sugar-problem.

And every blood sugar issue has singularly unique challenges related to that person’s metabolism, schedule, level of insulin production, and insulin resistance. So it’s lovely when science can pin-point a general change we could all make to improve blood sugar control- regardless of individual challenges.

A recent study says we can have our good bread and eat it too (after Passover, that is). It supports a plant-based diet as more effective than a conventional meat-containing diet at helping control blood sugar- despite it being higher in carbohydrate.

Seriously! We can eat more carbs and still have better blood sugar? I love that.

Researchers in this study split 74 people with Type 2 Diabetes into two groups: half ate a plant-based diet where low-fat yogurt once daily was the only animal product, and the remaining 37 people ate a diet that resembled the American Diabetes Association recommended diet (think omnivorous).

plant based dinner

Here are the stats for the diets they used:

Plant-based diet:

  • 60 percent carbs, 15 percent protein, 25 percent fat.
  • It consisted of grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, with animal products limited to a maximum of one serving of low-fat yogurt each day.
  • Example day: breakfast of cooked millet, plums, and almonds; soup made with lentils, cabbage and carrots for lunch; marinated tofu, bean sprouts, and brown rice for dinner; and snacks of hummus with carrot sticks.

Diet 2- typical of a diabetes-recommended diet:

  • 50 percent carb, 20 percent protein, 3o percent fat (limit of 7 percent saturated fat)
  • Omniverous
  • Example day: a breakfast of peanut butter raisin oatmeal; a wrap with tuna and cucumber for lunch; brown rice with honey lemon chicken and vegetables at dinner time; and snacks of carrot and celery sticks with a low-fat dairy dip, or low-fat plain yogurt.

plant based dinner

Both diets look seemingly healthy, and researchers restricted each by 500 calories to ensure weight loss.

That is why I love this study- both groups lost weight which would help blood sugars either way, but the plant-based diet group had a significant drop in blood sugar and intramuscular fat (the kind that causes the most insulin resistance).

We can speculate why this happened, but from my experience, what a meat-laden diet lacks compared to its veggie counterpart is enough fiber (which helps insulin sensitivity) and phytonutrients (plant compounds that help decrease inflammation).

Meat, particularly red and processed meat, increases inflammation on its own as well.

Inflammation= insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance= higher blood sugars

There is also something else: meat fat.

fake orange chicken
Orange “chicken” using fake chicken strips from Morning Star.

Marbled fat from animals is very good at weaseling it’s way into our cells and disrupting the normal cellular processes. This accumulation of visceral fat is a major contributor of Type 2 Diabetes via insulin resistance.

A simple thing to change if you are concerned about your blood sugar: eat less animal fat. Bonus: It is good for the planet too.

I know what you are thinking right now- Why did the Baltimore Ravens just sign RGIII? Didn’t he mess his knee up for good?

Oh, wait. That’s me.

What YOU are thinking is, “How could I cut back on meat? I love meat. Meat is my friend”.

To you, alas, I pat your back and direct you to the very encouraging arms of my friend, Tully. Tully runs a fantastic plant-based blog called Vegans First. She is entertaining and knowledgeable, and if you are considering making a positive change- even if it is just eating one or two fewer meat-based meals a week- Tully can help you feel more confident and excited about your decision.

I asked Tully why she liked eating a plant-based diet. She cited animal cruelty and the environment, but stated that once she went vegan, she “never really felt that great after (she) went back to meat or animal products”.

“Once I started eating a plant-based diet, I felt so much better…as soon as I started actually listening to my body…it all made sense that plant-based living was actually how to live”.

I love that. I feel the same.

Unlike Tully, but similar to this study, I include a few animal products from time to time- kefir, for one, and at other people’s homes or occasionally while out, I will have some cheese or fish. I don’t eat meat, though- and haven’t for 12 years.

I go by the 90% rule- most of my meals are vegan, and I try to make them all plant-based, but I don’t adhere to a strict vegan diet. We each have to find what is right for us.

And we all start somewhere. After all, Meat Lovers pizza was my favorite as a child. I’ve certainly come a long way. The pics in this post are all dinners I’ve made recently.

Plant-based and nom-noms. Now off to eat some yummy matzah nachos. Don’t be jealous.

xox Joanna


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2 thoughts on “Plant-based and higher carb diet may be better for blood sugar

  1. Such a great post! Thanks, Joey <3

    What is the dressing you use on that broccoli-pomegranate salad? And the green sauce on the photo below?

    1. Thanks, Kelly! The dressing was a poppyseed salad dressing, and the green sauce was a chimichurri I made from scratch. Super yummy!

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