We all know someone who is affected by diabetes—it could be your aunt with type 2, your brother with type 1, a prediabetic friend, or even yourself. It is commonly accepted that there is no cure—merely management—particularly for type 1. However, the founders of the Mastering Diabetes program (and book by the same name) think differently. Both type 1 diabetics, Robby Barbaro, MPH, and Cyrus Khambatta, PhD, have done the research and the work to help others gain healthy independence from their diagnosis—no matter what form. Khambatta sat down with us to offer their best practices to prevent, reverse, and manage diabetes on a plant-based diet.
VegNews: What is diabetes?
Cyrus Khambatta: The term “diabetes” is given to a collection of conditions that are all characterized by elevated blood glucose values. There are many types of diabetes including type 1, type 1.5, type 2, prediabetes, and gestational diabetes.
VN: Can you break down these different types?
CK: Both type 1 and 1.5 are autoimmune conditions that can destroy insulin-producing beta cells. This results in the need to inject insulin by way of a needle or pump. The difference is that type 1.5 only occurs in adults over 30, whereas type 1 can be diagnosed regardless of age.
Prediabetes acts as a warning sign for type 2 diabetes—it occurs when your muscles and liver have become resistant to insulin, resulting in a minor “traffic jam” of both glucose and insulin in your blood that slightly elevates your fasting blood glucose. Finally, gestational diabetes is a version of diabetes that affects pregnant women and usually disappears after giving birth.
VN: Once diagnosed, is diabetes a disease someone has to manage for life?
CK: Not necessarily. Prediabetes, type 2, and gestational diabetes can be reversed (or even prevented) using plant-based food as medicine.
VN: Your program advocates for carbohydrate-rich whole foods, but we’ve heard diabetics should avoid carbs. Can you explain?
CK: The “controversial” aspect of whole-food nutrition is that carbohydrate-rich foods are actually some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and are excellent choices for people with all forms of diabetes. Carbohydrate-rich foods are easy to metabolize when your total fat intake is kept low (especially saturated fat). When you’re consistently eating a maximum of 15 percent of your total calories as fat, your body’s ability to metabolize whole carbohydrate-rich foods will increase over time, allowing you to eat larger quantities of carbohydrate-rich foods while maintaining excellent blood glucose control.
VN: What are a few foods you’d consider essential or highly advantageous for those with diabetes?
CK: There are so many! Just off the bat: fruit (bananas, mangoes, oranges), starchy vegetables (potatoes and butternut squash), legumes (beans, lentils, peas), intact whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, farro), non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes), leafy greens, fresh or dried herbs and spices, and a variety of mushrooms.
VN: What are a few recipes readers should start with from your book?
CK: I’ll give you a little bit sweet and a little bit savory: Nature’s Candy Bowl, Chickpea Scramble (I promise it’s the best scramble you’ll ever have), and the Hearty Sweet Potato and Squash Soup (it’s so good I crave it even when it’s horribly humid in my home of Costa Rica).
VN: In the age of Vegan Everything, do you think “junk food vegans” are at risk for becoming diabetic? How can we prevent the onset of type 2 or prediabetes and still enjoy a few scoops of our favorite non-dairy ice cream?
CK: In today’s world with vegan foods readily available, we believe that many people will actually become unhealthier even though they are trying to eat healthier. While eating processed vegan foods is a step in the right direction, optimal health is attained by eating a whole-food, plant-based diet that focuses on eating from the produce section of the grocery store. However, we also believe in the 80/20 principle. If people simply ate 80 percent of their vegan diet from whole foods and only 20 percent of their diet from processed food, then they would likely become healthier people and also develop a sustainable eating pattern that would last for many years.