One of America's most common killer diseases, type 2 diabetes, jeopardizes the health, quality of life, and longevity of nearly 24 million Americans, according to the American Diabetes Association, and that number continues to rise. New cases have doubled over the past 30 years, and because the disease occurs gradually and often with no obvious symptoms, many people don't even know they have it. People who are overweight are at higher risk because fat interferes with the body's ability to use insulin, the crux of the disease.
But a solution to the problem is within reach: a groundbreaking eating plan not only helps prevent this chronic disease, but actually reverses it while also promoting weight loss. Focusing on plant-based meals,the revolutionary plan was developed by Vegetarian Times former Ask the Doc columnist, Neal Barnard, MD, and is backed by the results of his long-term study. Your doctor may not tell you about this diet: dietitians generally counsel overweight diabetics to cut calories, reduce serving sizes, and avoid starchy carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels.
But Barnard's team at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and scientists at George Washington University and the University of Toronto thought this might be the wrong approach, considering that carbohydrate-rich rice, legumes, and root vegetables are staples throughout Asia and Africa, where most people are thin and diabetes rates are low. Barnard and his team studied a group of diabetics, comparing the effects of a diet based on standard recommendations versus a vegan-style diet with no limits on calories, carbs, or portions, and just three rules: eliminate meat, dairy, and eggs; minimize fat and oil; and favor low-glycemic foods (such as beans, vegetables, brown rice, and oatmeal), which have little effect on blood sugar.
After 22 weeks, participants on the vegan plan experienced average blood sugar drops three times that of subjects on the standard diet. Researchers found that the vegan plan led to better blood sugar control, and reductions in cholesterol and body weight too. Better still, study results show that Barnard's plan also helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. So, even if diabetes and weight loss are not your primary concerns, there are plenty of other health reasons to give this eating strategy a try. Here, we've created a week's worth of menus and recipes that follow Barnard's plan, making it deliciously doable for anyone.
The Plan Unlike others, this eating plan has no calorie or portion requirements (hooray!), but the following seven-day menu can be used as a guideline.
Day 1 breakfast: Oatmeal with soymilk, cinnamon, and raisins lunch: Hummus and veggie wrap with fresh fruit salad dinner: Pasta with marinara sauce and plenty of vegetables
Day 2 breakfast: Southwestern Tofu Scramble with whole-wheat pita lunch: Hearty vegetable soup with whole-grain crackers dinner: Vegetarian chili with brown rice and tossed salad
Day 3 breakfast: Melon with whole-grain toast (unbuttered) lunch: Bean burrito with salsa, veggies, and vegan sour cream dinner: Grilled Ratatouille Salad with whole-wheat couscous
Day 4 breakfast: Whole-grain pancakes or waffles with fresh fruit lunch: Grilled veggie sandwich with fat-free coleslaw dinner: Spiced Kabocha Squash Soup, tossed salad, and pita crisps
Day 5 breakfast: Cereal with soymilk and sliced apples lunch: Carrot or tomato soup with rye toast (unbuttered) dinner: Spaghetti with Spinach and Mushrooms
Day 6 breakfast: Whole-grain cereal, such as muesli, with soymilk lunch: Couscous with Asparagus, Snow Peas, and Radishes dinner: Sloppy Joes made with soy crumbles
Day 7 breakfast: Fruit smoothie lunch: Bulgur wheat salad with chickpeas and veggies dinner: Asparagus and mushroom risotto and tossed salad anytime snacks: Fruit, whole-grain crackers or pretzels with hummus, baked corn chips, edamame, Fruit Salad with Vanilla-Apple Syrup