Robby and Cyrus, authors of Mastering Diabetes, are living proof that eating a plant-based diet for insulin resistance is the best way to reverse both type 2 and type 1 diabetes.
When I first read the headline reversing insulin resistance with a low-fat vegan diet with Robby and Cyrus on the Energy Blueprint Podcast, it caught my attention.
How are two guys using a low-fat vegan diet for insulin resistance? Especially when this is the opposite of what we have been taught?
While I have never been afraid of plant-based whole food carbohydrates, the low-fat aspect as well was very intriguing.
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I was blown away as I listened to both Cyrus and Robby’s story (both have type 1 diabetes) and their success in dramatically improving their insulin sensitivity.
They both reduced their need for external insulin to regulate their blood sugar, lowered their A1c scores, and have helped thousands of others to do so as well, all by eating a low-fat plant-based whole food diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.
When Robby and Cyrus presented the science, research, and explanation behind how a low-fat plant-based vegan diet reverses insulin resistance in the liver and muscles, it all made a lot of sense.
But before we delve into the details and mechanisms, let’s first get an understanding of:
- what is insulin resistance?
- what is prediabetes?
- what is type 2 diabetes?
- What is type 1 diabetes?
What is Insulin Resistance and how a plant-based diet helps to reverse insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is when cells have become unresponsive and resistant to the signals of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that transports glucose around the body. For example, insulin transports glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells of the liver and muscle.
When the cells of the liver and muscles are full of triglycerides and glycogen, the cells will become insulin resistant as there is no more storage room for incoming glucose.
The underlying cause of insulin resistance is the excess amount of fatty acids and glucose already stored in the liver and muscle cells.
Therefore the best way to restore insulin sensitivity is to eat highly nutritious yet low-calorie foods, which are fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, and unprocessed whole grains.
Fats yield the most calories at nine calories per gram, while carbs yield calories four calories per gram.
Even though fats have the least impact on raising insulin levels, fats are still a compact fuel source that perpetuates insulin resistance when excess fatty acids are already stored in the liver and muscle.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a condition that precedes type 2 diabetes. When your fasting blood glucose is between 100-125 mg/dl or when your A1c value is between 5.7% and 6.4%, prediabetes is diagnosed.
Prediabetes is when your muscle and liver cells have become resistant to the effects of insulin resistance resulting in both elevated blood glucose and insulin levels.
Having elevated fasting blood glucose is a warning sign that type 2 diabetes is approaching if dietary and lifestyle interventions are not implemented.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependant diabetes, occurs when your fasting blood glucose increases beyond 125mg/dl or when your A1c levels are 6.5 or greater.
In type 2 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas are still producing insulin, but at this stage, insulin resistance and prediabetes have progressed beyond mild insulin resistance. The pancreas cannot produce high enough levels of insulin.
When the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range, external insulin is used to force glucose into the cells that are already loading with too much fuel.
But in type 2 diabetes, the problem is not low insulin levels, and the answer is not to force glucose inside the cell with external insulin.
Benefits of a plant-based diet to reverse insulin resistance and diabetes
The answer is to allow the body to utilize and burn the fatty acids and glycogen that is already stored to produce energy and thus restore insulin sensitivity.
A low-fat plant-based diet for insulin resistance offers the lowest calories yet is still nutrient-dense. Plant-based whole foods are brimming with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and phytochemicals to cleanse the liver and restore insulin sensitivity.
Fats are decreased to 15% of total calories as they are calorie-dense and provide too much fuel for someone with type 2 diabetes. A person with type 2 diabetes already has too much fat and energy stored.
Eating a plant-based diet for type 2 diabetes lowest in calories and high in nutrition. Plant-based foods in their whole food form also contain fiber, which has zero calories yet helps to make you feel full.
Exercise and intermittent fasting are two additional powerful tools for reversing type 2 diabetes by depleting stored fat and glycogen.
When fatty acids and glycogen stores are depleted in the muscle and liver, the cells will become insulin sensitive and hungry for glucose again!
Type 2 diabetes puts you at increased risk for:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- cardiovascular disease
- weight gain
- fatty liver disease
- kidney disease
- low energy
Decreasing the risk of developing these health problems is a pretty darn good reason to do your best to restore insulin sensitivity through diet, exercise, and fasting.
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, happens as a result of an autoimmune condition that destroys the beta cell of the pancreas, which are responsible for producing insulin.
As a result of the beta cells being destroyed and unable to produce insulin, external insulin must be injected via a syringe, pen, or insulin pump.
Both Robby Barbero and Cyrus Khambatta, who are the authors of Mastering Diabetes, are both type 1 diabetics. They both found that eating a low carbohydrate, high fat and, high protein diet did not work for them.
Instead, they switched to a low-fat plant-based diet. To their surprise, Robby and Cyrus found that they both became more insulin sensitive when eating a low-fat plant-based diet. Both Robby and Cyrus ate way more whole-food carbohydrates, including fruits, yet they needed less insulin to maintain blood glucose levels.
As type 1 diabetics who have to inject insulin, they have to measure their insulin sensitivity daily.
Robby and Cyrus both found that they were more insulin resistant on a low carb high-fat, high protein diet, meaning they had to inject more insulin for a smaller amount of carbohydrates.
In comparison, when they followed a low-fat plant-based diet whole food diet, they became more insulin sensitive, meaning they had to inject less insulin even though they were eating a higher carbohydrate-rich diet.
They argue and found that carbohydrate-rich foods will spike your blood glucose if and only if your baseline level of insulin resistance is high, to begin with.
This means that if you are already insulin resistant, you will likely experience high blood glucose any time you eat carbohydrate-rich foods making it extremely challenging to eat carbs.
But is the problem the carbohydrates or the insulin resistance that has already developed due to excess fatty acids in the liver and muscle tissues along with full glycogen stores?
Take note that a fatty liver will have decreased glycogen stores available for glucose from carbohydrates, making someone even less tolerable to carbohydrates and glucose.
Robby and Cyrus demonstrate that you increase insulin sensitivity by eating a low-fat plant-based diet.
When glycogen stores become depleted in the liver and muscle through eating a low-calorie nutrient-dense plant-based diet, you will be able to eat carbohydrate-rich foods in their whole food form and experience excellent blood glucose.
A plant-based diet for insulin resistance
A crucial component of the vegan diet for insulin resistance that they recommend eating to restore insulin sensitivity is to eat a low-fat plant-based whole food diet with only 15% of total calories coming from fat.
Whole food diet means not processed in any way aside from cooking such as:
-All fruits in their whole form, not fruit juice
-All vegetables, mushrooms, and potatoes, not crackers or pasta
-Intact whole grains such as legumes, beans, rice, and lentils, not highly processed vegan burgers or refined carbohydrates such as flours.
They separated foods into three different categories:
Mastering Diabetes Green Light Foods
Greenlight foods to eat in abundance that are unprocessed plant-based foods naturally low in fat such as fruits, starchy vegetables, legumes, intact whole grains, mushrooms, leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, and fresh herbs and spices.
Mastering Diabetes Yellow Light Foods
Yellow light foods to minimize are plant-based whole foods containing higher fat content such as avocados, nuts, seeds, plant-based nut milk, coconut, soy products, dried fruits, sprouted bread.
Mastering Diabetes Red Light Foods
Red light foods to eliminate which are animal-based products and highly processed foods such as red meat, white meat, eggs, chicken, all dairy products, oils, processed vegan foods, sweeteners, refined white foods, and fish
The reason why they recommend a low-fat diet to reverse insulin resistance is that they found that insulin resistance is caused by the accumulation of excess fats in tissues such as the liver and muscles.
The liver and muscle are not meant to store large quantities of fat.
The following are some statements that they made in the Mastering Diabetes book regarding fat.
“Fatty acids directly inhibit the action of insulin. The more fat you eat (especially saturated fat), the more insulin resistant you become.”
“An overwhelming amount of scientific evidence shows that a high-fat diet is the single most effective method at inducing insulin resistance in both your liver and muscles.”
“Studies demonstrate that increasing your fat intake has an immediate negative impact on the ability of insulin to communicate with tissues, which can then develop into a chronic state of insulin resistance and diabetes if your fat intake remains high.”
“As the quantity of stored fat in your muscle and liver decreases, your muscle and liver will regain their ability to respond to insulin, allowing glucose to enter easily. As both your liver and muscle become better at recognizing and responding to insulin, your blood glucose is likely to decrease significantly.”
Because green light foods are the lowest in calorie density yet full of nutrients, they can be eaten in abundance. A low-fat diet allows the liver and muscles to maximize their insulin sensitivity.
For anyone struggling to lose weight, control their blood glucose, or reverse insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, I highly recommend reading the book Mastering Diabetes.
Robby Barbaro and Cyrus Khambatta have some phenomenal testimonials and evidence to show that a low-fat plant-based diet is effective at managing diabetes when done right, plus so much more in-depth information.
While I have spoken to people who have done well on a keto diet, I have also spoken to people for whom it just did not work. I have always felt that a very high fat keto diet can be overwhelming and stressful for a liver the requires so many nutrients from plant-based foods as well.
In the long term, I always advocate a balanced whole food diet that contains all the macronutrients and micronutrients which are found in animal products as well.
But using various diets for a therapeutic purpose such as reversing insulin resistance can be extremely powerful to help restore insulin sensitivity.
Vitamin B12 and Choline are two nutrients that vegans are likely to become deficient in.
Choline is highest in liver and eggs and is required by the PEMT gene to make phosphatidylcholine, which is a crucial nutrient to prevent fatty liver. If you don’t eat eggs or liver then a phosphatidylcholine supplement is the next best option.
Since fatty liver underlies insulin resistance, it is crucial to ensure that choline-rich foods are eaten in small amounts alongside a plant-based diet for insulin resistance.