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Diabetes affects 26 million Americans—and by 2030 that number is expected to double. While much of the discussion regarding diet and diabetes has centered on carbohydrates, a new study suggests that we should pay more attention to protein, specifically the source of protein being consumed.

Why wouldn’t you begin introducing more plant-based proteins in your diet today?

The study, published in the April, 2017 edition of the British Journal of Nutrition adds to the growing body of evidence indicating that the type of protein we eat may play an important role in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that plant protein was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, while people who eat a diet rich in meat had a higher risk.

The researchers analyzed the diets of 2,332 men between the ages of 42 and 60 years who did not have type 2 diabetes at baseline. During a follow-up of 19 years, 432 men were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. There was a 35% reduction in risk for type 2 diabetes with those who eat the most plant protein than the risk of those with who eat the least. The strongest association was seen in those people who eat more meat, including processed and unprocessed red meat—and white meat. Researchers calculated that even by replacing approximately 5 grams of animal protein with plant protein daily the risk of diabetes could be reduced by 18%. In this study, the main sources of plant proteins were whole grains, followed by vegetables.

As noted in this analysis published in 2016 in Molecular Aspects of Medicine, one of the most consistent epidemiological associations between diet and human disease risk is the impact of red meat consumption. It is associated with higher levels of all-cause mortality, from type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other inflammatory diseases.

Why wouldn’t you begin introducing more plant-based proteins in your diet today? What follows is a plan to get you started, offering three days and a number of ways to reduce your risk of diabetes.

Day One

Getting an excellent start with a health-promoting breakfast, the Egg White and Vegetable Frittata (see Menu 1, Breakfast) offers all the benefits of anti-inflammatory vegetables without the cholesterol-rich egg yolk; a side of strawberries is filled with cell-protective antioxidants such as vitamin C and lycopene. A mid-day meal featuring Quick Lentil Chili (see Menu 1, Lunch) brings together protein-rich lentils, high in soluble fiber (which are excellent for managing blood sugars and cholesterol) with the delicious high fiber benefits of whole grain cornbread.

For dinner, enjoy delicious plant-based Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna (see Menu 1, Dinner), which uses health-promoting tofu instead of meat or cheese and eliminates the saturated fat and cholesterol of a typical slice of lasagna. This whole meal, including the decadent cocoa truffles for dessert, is the perfect example of a vegan meal that delivers all the satisfying, rich flavor, but poses none of the health risks that a typical meat-based meal like this would render.

Researchers wonder what it is it in animal protein that poses such health risks. Current research sheds light on many other components hidden within meat that cause concern for those with diabetes and other chronic disease. These include compounds such TMAO, AGEs (advanced glycation end products), heme iron, nitrates and nitrosamines, Neu5Gc, leucine, and IGF-1 along with increased pollutants that accumulate in those proteins found higher in the food chain.

Day Two

An Arugula Salad with Beets and Oranges (Menu 2, Dinner) is a great example of a dish with diabetes-prevention ingredients. Research suggests that eating beets can lower diabetes risk factors such as high blood pressure by increasing blood flow. In general, the health benefits of a plant-based approach on diabetes has been well supported by previous research. A meta-analysis published in 2013 in Current Diabetes Reports looked at the link between meat and diabetes. Researchers found significantly higher risk associated with total meat consumption, and especially processed meat—particularly poultry.

Day Three

Even the turmeric and ginger in this Vegetable Curry (see Menu 3, Dinner) can help support your health to prevent diabetes. The cell-protective, anti-inflammatory,  immune-boosting and blood-sugar-managing properties of spices are certainly worth testing. In addition, the National Institutes of Health has recommended a plant-based approach. In 2013 The Permanente Journal promoted a plant-based diet as a cost-effective approach to reducing risk factors for diabetes and heart disease found in results from A1C tests, BMI measurements, blood pressure measures, and cholesterol assessments.

Of course, habits are formed in a variety of ways. Some research proposes 21 days as the turning point for lifestyle change. Whether or not you subscribe to that, certainly reducing risk factors one tasty meal at a time is a pleasant way to improve your health, and giving yourself a three-day plan is a good jumpstart to the system.

What foods will you choose to curb your diabetes risk this week?

Contributed by

Carra Richling
Registered Dietitian

Eat well, be well!

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