A whole food plant based diet is receiving growing attention as one of the healthiest diets you can follow. This is particularly true if you have diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
There are two very common questions people have when getting started with this type of diet. They are:
What can I eat?
How do I get the right nutrition?
Another related question is: Do you have to join PETA to try the diet!!?
I can’t answer this question for you, but will try and get started on the first two!
Caveat 1: If you have not read my article on the health benefits of a Plant Based diet and diabetes, you will want to read this first.
Caveat2: This diet is so powerful, many participants have been able to lower, if not eliminate their blood sugar regulating medication. You need to work with your doctor to make sure you are monitoring your blood sugar and adjusting the medication properly. There is a real danger that the diet, combined with the medication, can lower your blood sugar too much!! Don’t be scared about this. The whole point of eating this way is to reduce or eliminate your medications. Be happy about this, but also be careful!
What Can I Eat on a Plant Based Diet?
While I bill this diet as a whole foods, plant based diet, some people may view it as a vegan diet. Technically, it is a vegan diet, although it has some important differences. For example, this diet avoids processed foods such as white flower. So, while that slice of white bread may be vegan, it is not a whole food. We want to stick with the whole food, as discussed below.
The food choices below are a combination of recommendations found in the The China Study,
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure, and Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs.
EAT AS MUCH AS YOU WANT
- Whole Grains
- Vegetable Oil
- Processed Carbohydrates
Pretty simple, huh? While simple, I am sure you may have some questions. I will try and cover most of these below.
Please be aware that there is some discrepancy amongst the literature regarding the use of fish, oils, nuts and avocadoes. I will also talk about these below.
TIPS and TRAPS
Avocados and Nuts: Depending upon your current health condition, you may want to avoid avocados and nuts. These foods have huge calorie and fat content. If you have heart disease, diabetes or are over weight, then it would be best if you avoided these foods entirely.
Vegetable Oils: The same caveat holds true for all vegetable oils. Olive oil is the most common example of a “heart healthy” oil that people cite to as being good for you. As Dr. Esselstyn puts it, 14-17 percent of olive oil is made up of saturated fat. While olive oil is “better” for you than other oils, it is still not appropriate, particularly if you are at risk of heart disease, which you are if you have diabetes. Sorry!
Fish: The China Study allows for minimal fish consumption. Dr. Esselstyn and others maintain that fish is so full of toxins and/or antibiotics (from fish farms) that they are a danger to your health. Yes, Omega-3 is helpful, but he recommends other sources. Personally, I try and avoid all fish.
Whole Grain Notes: Pasta, rice and other grains are just fine, there is no limitation. This seems counter to the advice given by the ADA and others that have you absolutely paranoid about even looking at a plate of spaghetti! Do not buy any refined or processed grains. Always choose whole grain. Whole grains have not had the most nutritional parts of them stripped away. White pasta, white bread, etc., have no real nutritional value. Stay away from them.
Added Salt, Oil and Sugar: Once you tune into food labels, you will be astonished with the sheer volume of crap that food companies add to your food. Don’t even get me started on most restaurants. You need to start comparing food labels to see the amounts of any given harmful ingredient that has been added. For example, choose “No Salt Added” soup instead of the salted variety. You can add a little salt at home, but it will be way lower than what is normally a part of the average can of soup. Added oil and sugar, including high fructose corn syrup and other trendy and devious sugar names are flat out killing you. Added sugar is added sugar. Stop it!
Moderation: Most diets talk about moderation. This may be the size of portions or the amount of calories. Generally, there is no such caveat with this diet. Eat as much of the good stuff as you want. Most people following this diet get full faster, thus eat less. The type of food you will be eating fills you up faster than animal based and processed food does. The flip side of this is that you will tend to lose a lot of weight, if you are over weight!
It’s not Working: Not losing weight? Not lowering your cholesterol? Not lowering your blood sugar? The vast majority of the time, the person is not strictly following the diet. Did you cheat? Are you eating exclusively whole grains? Are you paying attention to the added ingredients on the food labels? Alternatively, you are following the diet, but you are eating avocados, oils, nuts and fish. Cut these out and re-commit to the diet and it should work.
How Do I Get The Right Nutrition on a Plant Based Diet?
The biggest objection people always have to following this type of diet is: How do I get the right nutrition? This objection manifests itself in a variety of ways such as how do I get enough protein if I am not eating meat or dairy products.
Variety: Look, you can’t just sit down with a box of whole wheat pasta and think you are getting a balanced meal. Add 2-3 vegetables to the sauce and it becomes much more tasty and healthy. Or, add a side salad sprinkled with some garbanzo or red kidney beans. The point is that each meal should have a variety of ingredients to offer a full range of nutrition.
Meal Plan: I find it hard to meal plan, but I typically do have at least an informal one, such as:
- 2 Quick Breakfast Options
- 2 Quick Lunch Options
- 5-7 Dinner Options
I shop with these 7-9 meals in mind and buy extra so I have the ingredients covered. I would suggest buying the Fork Over Knives Cookbook (see bottom of page) and picking meals that you think fit your lifestyle (e.g., like to cook, don’t like to cook, etc.).
Cheater’s Meal Plan: I also have 2-3 go to “cheat” meals. What’s a cheat meal? It’s a meal I can eat when the last thing I want to think about is cooking. Here are some examples:
- Frozen Veggie Burgers (I have the burgers and buns in the freezer)
- Frozen Vegan Burritos
- Frozen Vegetables (great as sides, when I didn’t pick up fresh ones)
- Other Frozen Dinner Options
Do you want to eat these every night? Probably, not. But, if you had to work late or had a stressful day; you have these on hand and are less likely to cheat with the meat lover’s pizza from Domino’s!
This book has a wealth of knowledge in it. Try some of the meals and incorporate your favorites into an ongoing plant based diet meal plan.
For an extensive list of whole food plant based nutrition resources, please follow the link and look at the bottom of the article.
Also, check out our Diabetes Recipes. We have a lot of vegan and vegetarian recipes and are adding many more!
The China Study, T. colin Campbell, Phd., and Thomas Campbell II, M.D., Benbella Books (2006).
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., Penguin Group (2008).
Dr. Neal Bernard’s Program For Reversing Diabetes, Neal Bernard, M.D., Rodale, Inc., (2007)
The Starch Solution, John McDougall, M.D., Rodale, Inc. (2012).
By Erich Schultz – Last Reviewed April 2013.