How Plant-based Diets Can Help Fight Chronic Diseases
- 6 Mins Read
- Health Conditions
- Written by: Shama Nimkar
- Plant-Based Approach: With an increasing number of individuals getting diagnosed with diabetes at a younger age, doctors and researchers have come to realize the importance of plant-based nutrition in curbing this disease in its early stages as well as using it to maintain good health while living with it.
- Why Carbs Matter: Reading this article helps you understand the importance of incorporating a healthy dose of carbohydrates in your daily meals to fight insulin resistance.
- Insulin Resistance: Dr. Cyrus Khambatta gives you an insight into the inner functioning of your body’s insulin activity and the true culprit behind insulin resistance. Reading this article will provide you with the dos and don’ts for promoting insulin sensitivity.
- Diet Tips: Having curated a diet plan under his Mastering Diabetes program, he provides readers with nutrition guidelines, highlighting what should be eaten and what shouldn’t.
- How the Mastering Diabetes Programme Can Help Diabetics: These real-life case studies exhibit the power of plant-based nutrition through the success stories of individuals who were able to improve their health by following the Mastering Diabetes program.
- Healthy Living: Lastly, the article emphasizes the essence of a healthy lifestyle that inculcates daily exercise, plant-based eating, mental peace, and the positive impacts of having a feeling of belonging to a community.
As more people continue to struggle with diabetes and its chronic effects, medical experts have found new ways of tackling insulin resistance with plant nutrition proving to be the most effective. If not controlled in time, diabetes can trigger several heart conditions and can even affect the cognitive functioning of the brain. One of the lesser known causes of Alzheimer’s is uncontrolled insulin resistance.
At the recently conducted Asian Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, Dr. Cyrus Khambatta addressed several such concerns related to diabetes. Dr. Khambatta is the Co-Founder of Mastering Diabetes and an internationally recognized nutrition and fitness coach who has been living with Type 1 Diabetes since 2002.
Having struggled with diabetes himself, Dr. Khambatta was a scared and clueless teenager after being diagnosed with three autoimmune diseases namely Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, Alopecia Universalis, and Type 1 Diabetes. The Alopecia stripped him of every hair on his body. “I have no eyelashes, no ear hair and no nose hair, and no chest hair, literally zero hair on my body. I used to have hair but it fell out with time,” he says.
Adopting a plant-based approach to food was what helped Khambatta manage his life better. To gain a deeper understanding of the complex mechanisms that prompt the development of diabetes in your body and what you can do to avoid it, read further:
Carbohydrates are not your enemies
“If you’re suffering from diabetes, you must realize that carbohydrates are not your enemies.” Using himself as a case study, Dr. Khambatta debunked the common misconception that carbohydrates aggravate insulin resistance.
In the hope of getting better, Dr. Khambatta took every piece of advice given to him by his doctors seriously. He followed a low-carbohydrate diet which consisted of foods like fish, chicken, cheese, red meat, and eggs. “I was told to limit my carbohydrate intake from fruits and potatoes and other starchy vegetables, as well as legumes and whole grains. I did exactly what the doctors told me to do because I didn’t know what the right answer was. Eventually, I hoped for my blood glucose to come under control, but the exact opposite happened,” he sighed.
He also remembers beginning to find it difficult to exercise. Being an athlete his entire life, it came as a shock to him that even a little physical activity started hurting his joints and left his muscles sore. “I noticed there was a sort of downward spiral in my overall health. And I decided that there was something that I had to do in order to transition myself to a state of better health. Hence, I switched to a low fat plant-based whole food diet, under the guidance of Dr. Douglas Graham.”
It was only when his insulin sensitivity increased eightfold within the first three weeks of following this diet and his fat intake dropped from 80 to somewhere around 20 grams that he realized the power of plant-based nutrition in rendering good health. “Moreover, my insulin use went down by 43%, needing somewhere between 20 and 25 units per day, a combination of both basal and bolus insulin,” he exclaims.
The plant-based diet delivered excellent results and to understand the correlation between carbohydrates, fat, and insulin, he enrolled in a Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley, where he studied more than 3000 scientific papers. “I worked hard to understand what causes insulin resistance, what causes insulin requirements to increase with time.”
After thorough research, Dr. Khambatta finally got to the root cause of insulin resistance and went on to write a book along with his business partner, Robby Barbaro, titled Mastering Diabetes. “We wanted to make sure that the information would spread through society to reach the people who are in real need of it.”
To have an upper hand over diabetes, it is important to understand what goes on inside your body when you consume certain types of foods and the mechanisms they can trigger. Dr. Khambatta starts by dismissing the perception that carbohydrates metabolite into sugar and affect your blood sugar levels which then increase your insulin requirements. “No, carbohydrates are mainly metabolized into glucose, not sugar and glucose is fuel for your brain, liver, and muscles. However, it is ideal that you consume non-refined carbohydrates as opposed to refined ones.”
He goes on to say that no biological process is a single variable relationship. Most of these processes are grouped into biological pathways, and these pathways are very complex. They’re nonlinear.
Diabetes itself has various types. There are Type 1 and 1.5 Diabetes which need you to inject insulin into your body externally. Next, we have pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes that is driven by lifestyle habits like exercise, diet, and total calorie intake. Lastly, we have gestational diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome. And those are two types of blood glucose irregularities that affect only women. Gestational diabetes affects women during pregnancy while polycystic ovarian syndrome is not a type of diabetes, but it results in high blood glucose values and altered glucose metabolism.
“People are driven towards low carbohydrate diets that worsen their health with time. So, saying that increased carbohydrate intake increases insulin usage is oversimplified and it’s an outdated model that we used to believe as a scientific community and that’s okay because science evolves over time.”
Understanding what causes insulin resistance
In the past, the medical literature has pointed toward lipids and fatty acids as being the real culprits behind insulin resistance. However, Dr. Khambatta explains that it is also a game of carbohydrates and sugars. “Insulin resistance is caused by the excess accumulation of saturated fat in your muscle and liver, and that traps glucose in your blood, which then causes high blood glucose, hyperglycemia, high insulin levels, and hyperinsulinemia. Storage of excess fat in tissues that are not designed to store large quantities of fat triggers insulin resistance over the time which then causes blood glucose irregularities,” he says.
When you consume a meal high in saturated fats, the fatty acids accumulate in not only your tissues but also your liver and muscles in the form of ectopic fat. Since these issues aren’t designed to handle excess fat, the body then slows down the rate of energy entering those two issues. One of the most effective ways that it can do that is by downregulating insulin receptors on the cell surface. The insulin in turn becomes less effective at allowing glucose to enter those tissues; a defense mechanism of sorts that both of those tissues initiate, to counter the excess accumulation of fat.
The body experiences something like a domino effect that prompts a reaction to every action, making it seem like an endless cycle of catastrophe. “The pancreas is now sent into hyperdrive, going on to secrete excess insulin with the help of beta cells. If not controlled in time, it can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. Hence, you must, at all costs, avoid a diet that contains excess saturated fat. The adipose tissue might experience inflammation while storing excess fatty acids and become hyperplastic, leading to obesity and worsening the glucose metabolism in the body,” he adds.
Now, there’s a collagen net or a collagen matrix that supports all tissues to maintain the integrity and the shape of that tissue. With all the excess fatty acids coming their way, they might leak and spill their content into the bloodstream, triggering insulin resistance as a result of affected beta-cell function. This is a dead-end and there’s no going back from here. There has been no solution found to date. “It can be said that the beta cells commit suicide, which closes doors on any future possibility of insulin production in your body; it’s irreversible. Hence, it is advisable to take measures early on, to prevent compromising your beta cells,” suggests Dr. Khambatta.
What should your diet consist of?
Prevention is the best solution, they say and the best method to achieve this is by following a plant-based lifestyle. “To help people with their transition, we developed what’s called The Mastering Diabetes Program that aids in maximizing insulin sensitivity.”
“In today’s world, the plethora of plant-based foods has exploded with delicious, satisfying, and colorful meals that are nutrient-dense and moderately calorically dense, which keep you full for long periods and add a lot of variety to your diet. To execute The Mastering Diabetes method, we encourage people to eat fruits of all shapes and all sizes. Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables along with a healthy dose of beans, lentils, and peas, otherwise known as legumes, must be essential elements of your diet. Green leafy vegetables, whole grains made with herbs and spices are great for consumption,” he says.
These foods are rich in calories and packed with carbohydrates. “I consume an average of 650-700 carbs daily. When you consume these foods, you’re also lowering your fat intake without even thinking about it.”
While excess fats can be harmful to your body, consuming foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, coconuts, and olives is highly beneficial. “These are foods that tend to be slightly higher in their fat intake hence, they must be had in small quantities. A little bit goes a long way,” he advised.
Always say ‘NO’ to refined versions of carbohydrates. Eating unprocessed foods as opposed to processed foods goes a long way in enhancing your insulin sensitivity. “Saturated fats are high in dairy products, eggs, red and white meat, fish and shellfish, oils of any kind, whether it’s canola oil or coconut oil or MCT oil. Any oil that you can think of is generally saturated fat-rich, even though it may be marketed as though it’s polyunsaturated fat-rich. Refined sugars in pastries and bread should be scrapped off your list as they contain refined sugars that can aggravate your liver within a short period, causing more glucose metabolism issues.”
Now the transition to plant-based nutrition can be tough and keeping the same in mind, Dr. Khambatta’s advice is to take one step at a time. “Start with one meal and take your time in getting used to the shift. Give your body the time to adapt. When you’re ready, move on to lunch, do so followed by dinner and finally, dessert.”
After having settled into your plant-based regimen, you can take up intermittent fasting. It’s a great way to accelerate the rate of weight loss for individuals who are obese and have diabetes. Combined with plant-based diets, intermittent fasting can dramatically improve insulin sensitivity and make the process faster.
How the Mastering Diabetes Programme can help diabetics: Case studies
“If you follow this program sincerely, you’re bound to see results.” He goes on to share the success stories of individuals who reaped the benefits of this program.
Case Study 1
Chris has been living with type 1 diabetes and by implementing the Mastering Diabetes techniques, not only was he able to reduce his A1C value by almost 1.5%, but he was able to reverse multiple chronic diseases.
He was diagnosed as hypertensive, had high cholesterol, was obese, and had rheumatoid arthritis. By following our diet, not only did his blood glucose come down by 50%, but he also managed to lose 76 pounds and then another 90. His basal insulin and bolus insulin got cut by almost 50%. He is no longer obese or hypertensive and doesn’t have high cholesterol. While he was told that he’d be living with rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of his life, it is now a thing of the past. He was able to eliminate 12 [00:49:00] oral medications. The only medication that he uses right now is basal and bolus insulin because he has autoimmune diabetes.
Case Study 2
Joaquin was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. After taking up Dr. Khambatta’s nutrition program, he lost 35 pounds in 60 days. He cut his fasting blood glucose from 45 to 95 within the first seven days and his carbohydrate intake went up fivefold. His energy levels have significantly improved and he has now gone on to lose even more weight and helped many members of his family and friends circle transition to a plant-based diet as well.
Case Study 3
Bob is another perfect example. Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he lost 100 pounds in eight months. He cut his fasting blood glucose by two-thirds and lost 4% on his A1C. His total cholesterol came down by more than 100 points and his blood pressure normalized. So, these changes happen in a very short period but last forever.
A healthy lifestyle is truly the core solution to targeting the root cause of any disease. Plant-based nutrition combined with regular exercise, mediation, and an adequate amount of sleep will reduce the risks of chronic diseases and keep you in pink health.
Besides healthy personal habits, factors like community and relationships also contribute to your well-being. “What we often forget is the essence of community, belonging, and healthy relationships. Having friends and family to talk to forms the basis of good mental health. Being able to discuss your problems releases stress and that itself makes a big difference.”
While fighting chronic diseases, joining support groups can be rather motivating. “Interactions with people outside your family or friend circle have their advantages too. A community is required because when you join a group of other people, whether virtually or physically, you get inspired by their stories, and their successes and you start wanting that for yourself too. Success becomes contagious and when you surround yourself with people who are achieving your goals, you start to see it, you start to feel it, and it starts to become much more doable,” Dr. Khambatta concluded.
Cyrus Khambatta, Ph.D. earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2003, then earned a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 2012. He is the co-author of many peer-reviewed scientific publications. He is the co-founder of Mastering Diabetes and Amla Green and is an internationally recognized nutrition and fitness coach who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002. He co-created the Mastering Diabetes Method to reverse insulin resistance in all forms of diabetes and has helped more than 10,000 people improve their metabolic health using low-fat, plant-based, whole-food nutrition, intermittent fasting, and exercise.