October is not only breast cancer awareness month, but it is also vegetarian month, and diabetes gets its month next in November. According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2011 there were about 18.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes and 7 million cases of undiagnosed diabetes. There are a host of medications and medical treatments to manage diabetes, and many have reversed their disease with weight loss and lifestyle changes. A vegetarian diet can play a role, too.
A study at George Washington University found diabetics who were on a vegan diet had control over their diabetes, including a drop in cholesterol and better kidney function. Vegan diets exclude the use of any animal products for food. But, could a vegetarian diet, with the inclusion of some animal products like dairy, eggs, and even sometimes fish, help control diabetes symptoms, too?
The American Diabetes Association says yes! “A vegetarian diet is a healthy option, even if you have diabetes. Research supports that following this type of diet can help prevent and manage diabetes,” they say at Diabetes.org.
DietsInReview.com’s resident pharmacist, Dr. Sarah G. Khan, who is a diabetes specialist, cautioned that, “Protein has little effect on blood sugar. Carbohydrates need to be eaten in moderation; they have the largest effect on blood sugar, particularly on postprandial or after-meal blood sugars,” she said.
In general, eating a diet rich in vegetables can help diabetics. The ADA said, “The high fiber in this diet may help you feel full for a longer time after eating and may help you eat less over all. When fiber intake is greater than 50 grams per day on a vegan diet, it may help lower blood glucose levels.”
Staying at a healthy weight with physical activity every day can help control and prevent diabetes symptoms, too, and are equally important to how a diabetic manages their diet.
“Exercise helps increase the body’s sensitivity to its own circulating insulin,” said Dr. Khan, adding that, “People with fat around the abdomen are more likely to become diabetic so maintaining a healthy weight is important.”
I recently talked to Olivia Newfarmer, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago. No one would ever guess that Olivia, who is only 22-years old, is diabetic because she looks like a happy and healthy young lady. Olivia said she is, “huge on creating awareness for diabetes. I think it’s important because diabetes is becoming an epidemic in the US. People need to learn how unhealthy eating habits will affect them and the dangers diabetes brings.”
Dr. Khan mentioned what those dangers are. “Diabetes has many long-term effects including possible kidney failure, blindness and nerve damage. Diabetics are more likely to die of stroke and heart attacks. They are more likely to have toes and limbs amputated. The costs of diabetes on an emotional and financial scale are astronomical.”
No one wants to see anyone they love and care about go through life living with diabetes. The disease can be controlled with a healthy diet and exercise. Eat plenty of vegetables, whether or not it’s vegetarian month, and do your part to raise awareness for diabetes.