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What Diabetes Patients Should Know About Vegetables

Reduce Your Risks With Easy Ways to Eat More Plants

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Updated August 27, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Diabetes patients can all benefit from increasing their intake of vegetables. I am not a vegetarian, and this article isn't meant to suggest that you should throw out all the meat in your freezer and become a full-fledged vegetarian. While a well-planned vegetarian diet can be healthy, it is just too drastic of a step for most people -- and truly not necessary -- to give up meat entirely in order to become a healthier diabetic. Still, there is a definitive link between vegetable nutrition intake and reduced diabetes risk -- enough so that it's worth taking a closer look at what diabetes vegetarians can teach us.

Proof That The Diabetes/Vegetable Nutrition Intake Link Does Exist:

  • A diet rich in dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Natural fiber is found only in plant foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
  • One study found that the more red and processed meats you eat, the higher your risk of diabetes -- it's as much as a 40% increased risk for each additional daily serving.
  • A 2006 study found that people with type 2 diabetes can significantly control the disease -- and lose weight -- by switching to a pure vegetarian diet.
  • Two more recent studies specifically link intake of green leafy vegetables to reduced diabetes risks. Specifically, one and a half servings per day were found to reduce type 2 diabetes risks by 14%. Green leafy vegetables are high in antioxidants, magnesium, and omega three fatty acids, all of which may contribute to reducing the risks of diabetes.

Easy Ways to Eat More Vegetables:

  • Eat at least one salad entree or salad appetizer a day. One cup of leafy greens is a serving of vegetables.
  • Buy precut veggies, or slice raw vegetables in batches to use for a few days. You'll be more likely to eat them if you can grab ready-to-eat veggies when you need them.
  • Sautée a batch of vegetables such as onions, mushrooms, peppers, spinach or zucchini. Store them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Use them in an omelet, meat loaf, burrito, sandwich wrap, rice pilaf, tomato sauce, or to top a pizza or grilled chicken sandwich.
  • Have a vegetarian dinner at least once a week, such as black beans with bell peppers, onions and served with brown rice; 2 cups of leafy greens topped with grilled vegetables and low-fat cheese; or veggie burgers topped with sautéed vegetables of choice and served on a whole-wheat bun.
  • Get creative. If you like the taste of a vegetable, try to think of new ways to use it. For example, if you like baby spinach, red peppers and cucumbers, try topping a sandwich with them, dicing them up for a pasta salad, or tossing them into rice for a colorful and tasty rice pilaf.

Sources

Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH et al. "Health benefits of dietary fiber." Nutr Rev< 2009; 67(4):188-205.

Carter P, Gray LJ, Troughton J, Khunti K, Davies MJ. "Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis."

Fung TT, et al. "Dietary Patterns, Meat Intake, and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Women." Arch Intern Med.</i> 2004;164:2235-2240.

Frassetto LA, et al. "Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet." European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009.

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