Did you know that in Canada, diabetes is the 6th leading cause of death? Over a relatively short period of time, the proportion of Canadians living with diabetes almost doubled from 6% in 2000 to 10% in 2011 (see here ). And our diabetes rates are expected to rise significantly in the years ahead. It’s a major concern not only in Canada, but globally. The World Health Organization considers it an epidemic.

People who have diabetes are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, vision loss, nerve damage, as well as amputation. It’s no wonder that diabetes cost the Canadian healthcare system and economy $11.7 billion in 2010. The costs are expected to rise to $16 billion by 2020 (see here).

But there is great potential and hope that we can avoid this trajectory. About 90% of diabetics are type 2. It is estimated that over half of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthier eating and increased physical activity (see here). And there’s evidence that type 2 diabetes can even be reversed through healthier eating (an example of one study is here).

What does healthier eating look like? Fruits, vegetables, legumes, unrefined grains, nuts and seeds. So, a whole-food, plant-based approach to eating.

Why can plant-based eating help? Most of us think that eating sugar or carbohydrates leads to diabetes. But high-calorie diets rich in saturated fats are currently considered the cause of type 2 diabetes. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products.

How can fat in our diet lead to diabetes? The fat we eat goes into our blood stream. From there, the fat can build up inside our muscle cells. This build up causes our muscle cells to become resistant to insulin (insulin is a hormone our bodies produce that acts like a key to let glucose into cells from our bloodstream). When our muscle cells are resistant to insulin, glucose in our blood stream rises. This is the fundamental issue associated with type 2 diabetes. This 5-minute video has an excellent animation of how insulin resistance occurs.

What happens when we eat more plant-based? This study including 89,000 Californians revealed that as diets became increasingly plant-based, there appears to be a step-wise drop in diabetes rates. For those who ate 100% plant-based, the risk of developing diabetes was dramatically lower than that of an omnivore.

Are you interested in learning more about how to avoid, treat or possibly reverse diabetes? There are some wonderful resources that inspire, teach and get us on our way.

  • Diabetes Undone is a 6-hour video series that covers all the bases, from the fundamentals about what is diabetes to all the specific lifestyle choices we can make to treat it. The series features Brenda Davis, a highly respected Canadian vegan dietician, and Wes Youngberg, both of whom have extensive experience helping people with diabetes. I purchased access to the series using the promo code and link on Brenda Davis’ homepage, and paid $24.50 USD.
  • Brenda Davis also co-authored a new book entitled, “The Kick Diabetes Cookbook: An Action Plan and Recipes for Defeating Diabetes.” I haven’t read it yet, but based on everything I know about her, I’m certain it’s a powerful tool.
  • Neil Barnard, MD is another highly regarded and strong advocate for effectively addressing our diabetes epidemic through a plant-based diet. He led numerous studies, with compelling results. You can check out his book, “Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs”. He also offers information and a free 4-page download called “Diet and Diabetes: Recipes for Success” here.

On a final note, if you are on medication for diabetes, consult your health care provider before transitioning toward plant-based eating. For some, there is a risk that low blood sugar can occur if diabetes medication is not adjusted.