Robby and Cyrus, authors of Mastering Diabetes, are living proof that eating a plant-based vegan insulin resistance diet is the best way to reverse insulin resistance in both type 2 and type 1 diabetes. Studies also show that vegan and vegetarian diets full of plant-based whole foods have resulted in significant reductions in body weight and the development of type 2 diabetes.
It caught my attention when I first read the headline reversing insulin resistance with a low-fat vegan diet with Robby and Cyrus on the Energy Blueprint Podcast.
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 always been fearless of plant-based whole-food carbohydrates, the low-fat aspect was also very intriguing.
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I was blown away as I listened to both Cyrus and Robby’s stories (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 helped thousands of others with diabetes mellitus to do so as well by eating a low-fat, whole-food diet with lots of plant foods, including legumes, fruit, and vegetables.
It all made a lot of sense 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.
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 vegan diet helps to reverse insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is when cells become unresponsive and resistant to insulin signals. Insulin is a hormone that transports glucose around the body. For example, the hormone insulin transports glucose out of the bloodstream and into the liver and muscle cells.
When the liver and muscle cells 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 do not cause the immediate release of insulin, fats are still a compact fuel source that perpetuates insulin resistance when excess fatty acids are already stored in the liver and muscle.
A low-carb diet is frequently recommended for insulin resistance, but if you are eating a low-carb diet and still can’t tolerate unprocessed carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables, have you actually reversed insulin resistance? The answer is no!
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a condition that precedes type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is diagnosed when your fasting blood glucose is between 100-125 mg/dl, or your A1c value is between 5.7% and 6.4%.
Prediabetes is when your muscle and liver cells become resistant to insulin, resulting in elevated blood glucose and insulin levels.
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 already loaded 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. The answer is to allow the body to utilize and burn the fatty acids and glycogen already stored to produce energy and thus restore insulin sensitivity.
Benefits of a vegan diet to reverse insulin resistance and diabetes
A low-fat vegan 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 lower insulin resistance.
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 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. People are at increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome and diabetes due to decreased physical activity, a sedentary lifestyle, and increased caloric intake.
Physical activity and a healthy lifestyle are primary preventative measures to prevent diabetes. Studies show that people with diabetes have a lower activity energy expenditure and a sedentary lifestyle puts you at a higher risk for developing insulin resistance.
A healthy vegan diet full of plant foods reduces the development of insulin resistance, especially when coupled with exercise, which is amazing for glycemic control and burning off excess glucose in the bloodstream. One of the best ways to maintain a healthy weight is by exercising daily. When managing gestational diabetes, a quick 10-minute walk after meals was excellent for keeping my blood sugar levels within the normal range.
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 an excellent 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 due to 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.
Robby Barbero and Cyrus Khambatta, 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 plant-based vegan diet. To their surprise, Robby and Cyrus found that they both became more insulin sensitive when eating a low-fat vegan diet. Robby and Cyrus ate way more whole-food carbohydrates, including fruits, but 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 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. Their results show that the best insulin-resistance diet is low-fat and contains plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
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.
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 and 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 vegan 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 from fat.
A 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 flour.
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, and sprouted bread.
Mastering Diabetes Red Light Foods
Red light foods to eliminate are animal protein such as red meat, white meat, chicken, all dairy products, eggs, oils, processed vegan foods, sweeteners, refined white foods, and fish.
They recommend a low-fat diet to reverse insulin resistance because they found that insulin resistance is caused by the accumulation of excess fats in tissues such as the liver and muscles.
The liver and muscles are not meant to store large quantities of fat.
They made the following statements in the Mastering Diabetes book regarding fat.
“An overwhelming amount of scientific evidence shows that a high-fat diet is the single most effective method of inducing insulin resistance in 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 your liver and muscles become better at recognizing and responding to insulin, your blood glucose will likely decrease significantly.”
Because green light foods are the lowest in calorie density yet full of nutrients, someone can eat an abundance of foods in the green light category. 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 talked 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 that requires many nutrients from plant-based foods.
In the long term, I always advocate a balanced whole-food diet that contains all the macronutrients and micronutrients found in animal products as well.
But using various diets for a therapeutic purpose, such as a plant-based vegan diet for reversing insulin resistance, can be extremely powerful to help restore insulin sensitivity.
Studies on the beneficial effects of low-fat plant-based diets for insulin resistance, diabetes, and weight loss
While Robby and Cyrus are living proof that a low-fat vegan diet is effective for reversing insulin resistance, there are plenty of studies that emphasize the benefits of a plant-based diet to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It is important to note that the type of macronutrient matters when it comes to reversing insulin resistance, such as:
- unrefined versus refined carbohydrates
- plant protein versus animal protein
- monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats versus saturated fats
A vegan diet for insulin resistance can still be unhealthy if refined carbohydrates and processed oils are consumed. Vegan and vegetarian diets full of plant foods such as legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are beneficial for managing and preventing type 2 diabetes.
Bad dietary choices that increase the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are increased consumption of calorie-dense foods such as fast foods, meats, and other animal fats, highly processed refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Plant-based foods that are low calorie, high fiber, and full of micronutrients and phytonutrients in their whole food form are the best vegan foods for an insulin resistant diet.
Studies also demonstrate that the intake of saturated fats increases insulin resistance making people intolerant to carbohydrates.
Another study shows that increasing low-fat plant foods while minimizing high-fat animal foods is associated with decreased body weight and fat loss. Weight loss was most associated with increased intake of legumes and reduced meat, fish, and poultry intake. The participants in this study were advised to eat a low-fat vegan diet, with only 10 % of their energy coming from fat.
A key component of the vegan insulin resistant diet is low fat. Robby and Cyrus recommend eating no more than 15% of your total caloric intake from fats. These days fats are hidden everywhere in processed foods, including salad dressings. Olive oil, which is deemed healthy, is still a processed oil high in calories.
A low-fat, plant-based diet reduces body weight by reducing energy intake. This dietary intervention is also associated with reductions in liver fat and muscle fat and increased insulin sensitivity. Fatty liver and obesity are correlated with type 2 diabetes, and a whole food plant-based diet that is low in fat is very beneficial for weight loss and insulin resistance.
How I used a low-fat diet to manage gestational diabetes and improve insulin resistance
When I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with mild gestational diabetes, which surprised me as I ate a healthy diet and understood insulin resistance. I am so grateful that I had previously read Mastering Diabetes, as the diabetes educator was not much of a help to me and just wanted to put me on insulin.
As a nutritional therapy consultant and researcher, I always hear more about the low-carb diet for diabetes. Still, when it came to my health, I intuitively knew that it was a low-fat diet that I needed to focus on to improve my insulin sensitivity.
During this time, a tested my blood sugar daily and found that the intake of fats especially saturated fats in coconut oil and cheese, would cause my blood sugar to rise higher when coupled with carbohydrates. I focused on low-fat green light foods and was able to manage my gestational diabetes and lower my fasting blood sugar without insulin. After having my baby, I re-took the glucose tolerance test and passed and also maintained a healthy HAlc.
Oxidative stress can cause insulin resistance which I am prone to as I have SNP’s in my antioxidant genes, including the SOD enzyme. As a result, I don’t neutralize free radicals as well. Eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, especially manganese found in blackberries, is crucial for me to help reduce oxidative stress.
Nutrients that vegans and vegetarians may need to supplements
Vitamin B12 and Choline are two nutrients in which vegans are likely to become deficient.
Choline is highest in liver and eggs and is required by the PEMT gene to make phosphatidylcholine, a crucial nutrient for preventing fatty liver. A phosphatidylcholine supplement is the next best option if you don’t eat eggs or liver.
Since fatty liver underlies insulin resistance, it is crucial to ensure that choline-rich foods are eaten in small amounts alongside a vegan diet for insulin resistance.
If you need a step-by-step guide with plant-based recipes to reverse insulin resistance and diabetes, then the Mastering Diabetes course is for you. Robby and Cyrus put the course together, and these guys will teach you everything you need to know about reversing insulin resistance, prediabetes, and managing type 1 diabetes.
As type 1 diabetics, Robby and Cyrus massively increased their insulin sensitivity and have helped thousands of others do the same with their Mastering Diabetes program. They are the best experts I have come across regarding reversing type 2 diabetes.
Also be sure to check out this oil free hummus as a healthy snack for weight loss and insulin resistance. This chickpea lentil curry is high protein, low fat and contains high amounts of fiber which is great for blood sugar balance.