Fri May 29, 2020
This is a question my grandmother asked me, when I told her “Paati, you can eat as many fruits as you want, mangoes too! They are only going to help you reverse diabetes.”
In my previous blog, I wrote about how whole plant foods are so calorically dilute, you can’t overdose on calories easily. This is because they are high fiber foods with high water content. Because of this and other reasons such as a high antioxidant content, its capacity to improve gut health, and slowing down sugar absorption, a whole food plant based diets have been proven to be much more effective than the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association in treating and reversing diabetes.
Dr. Neal Barnard’s landmark study at PCRM, Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, used a low fat vegan diet to prove this point. Why low fat? Because the root cause of diabetes at a cellular is something called intramyocellular lipid accumulation. Fat buildup inside muscle cells. This blocks the cell’s ability to absorb glucose from blood, leading to high sugar levels. A low fat, plant-based diet helps the body clear out the fat in our muscles, as well as critical organs like the liver and pancreas, contributing to diabetes reversal mechanisms.
Evidence from observational and interventional studies like Dr. Barnard’s demonstrates the benefits of plant-based diets in treating type 2 diabetes and reducing key diabetes-related macrovascular and microvascular complications.
A recent meta-analysis also showed that eating 600 grams of fruits a day reduces risk of developing metabolic syndrome by a whopping 34%! Metabolic syndrome is characterised by abdominal obesity, dyslipidemia, high BP and insulin resistance. Reduction in risk of metabolic syndrome in turn reduces risk of diabetes and heart disease. Fruits and other whole plant foods can help both in prevention as well as treatment of diabetes.
Photo Credit: Alexia Schu
There are studies linking fructose to obesity, diabetes, non alcoholic fatty liver disease, and inflammation. Are fruits unhealthy because they contain fructose? As the Harvard Health Letter puts it, “Fruits are not harmful and are even beneficial in almost any amount. Fruits contain lots of fiber. The fructose is bound to the fiber, which slows its absorption. Even more important, fruits and vegetables contain many other essential nutrients, such as flavonoids.” The problem is fructose from processed foods, like sugar.
Compared to pineapple, banana, durian and rambutan, eating mangoes seems to cause the lowest increase in blood sugar level. Who would have thunk it! Mangoes seem to be healthier than bananas in terms of blood sugar response.
Photo Credit: SixpathofDewa
Glycemic Index is a measure of how quickly your blood sugar shoots up after you eat a particular food. Eat a cucumber, for example, and your blood sugar may have a tiny blip, but a few spoons of sugar or jaggery will send it soaring. Most of us think mangoes would do the same - but the glycemic index of mangoes is only in the 50s, an intermediate level, safe for diabetics to eat.
Give diabetics some freeze dried mango every day for three months without any change in their diet or exercise, and their blood sugar drops by 4 points. On a side note, have you tried freeze dried mangoes? Absolutely delicious! Freeze drying seems to be one of the best ways to preserve nutrition - and taste!
We need to shift our perception from ‘mangoes are sweet, so they are bad for diabetes’ to looking at food as a whole. Yes, sugar is unhealthy - when it is processed. Yes, fat is unhealthy - when it is processed. Sugar as a part of whole plant foods, along with the fiber, water, and phytonutrients, is health promoting.
Photo Credit: Liwanchun
When I counsel my diabetic patients the first time I meet, the first change I ask them to make is to start every meal with a cup or two of fruits and large helpings of salads or sabzis. If we eat mangoes and other fruits in the morning and evening, we could imagine our calorie intake going up. But in practice, this does not happen, because fruits are calorically dilute, by the time you eat enough to boost your caloric intake, you are already full. The traditional Indian meal begins with a fruit and a kosambari, a vegetable salad. When you eat foods with high fiber & water content and low calorie density in the beginning of your meal, you tend to eat less calories overall. Starting your meal with just one apple could reduce energy intake by 15%. So, instead of a mountain of rice on your plate, consider large helpings of fruits and vegetables taking center plate.
My grandmother’s joy at being able to eat mangoes, oranges, and watermelon once again after years is profound. As Dr. Michelle McMacken and Dr. Sapana Shah concluded in their recent review, “The case for using a plant-based diet to reduce the burden of diabetes and improve overall health has never been stronger.”
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, do consider signing up for our free 21 day Plant-based Kickstart to know more about the dietary changes proven to help prevent and reverse diabetes.