11 million Canadians. That is, 1 in 3 people are currently living with either pre-diabetes or diabetes, and up to 95% of those cases are type 2 diabetes (T2DM) (3). But did you know that in most cases T2DM only starts after the age of 40 and is often highly preventable? Biological factors like ethnicity and genetics play a role in increasing one's risk, yet most often environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle contribute the most to the onset of T2DM (4). Due to the high prevalence rate of T2DM in Canada and its strong correlation to environmental factors, that will be the focus of our blog today.
So, what is T2DM and how is it related to diet? T2DM occurs when the body can't properly use or produce the hormone insulin that helps control the amount of sugar in our blood ingested from our diet (5). Unmanaged, this can come with a host of problems such as reduced functional status, and macro-and microvascular complications leading to an increased risk of mortality, among others (2). While T2DM is often associated with obesity, lean people can also acquire the illness.
Along with the classic rhetoric of "keep active", which of course is helpful in reducing the risk of pre-diabetes conditions, dietary changes can also play a substantial role in the prevention of T2DM. One of them is to put a strong emphasis on incorporating more plant-based foods with a diet rich in whole grains, including oats and barley as well as legumes, pulses, fruits and vegetables (1). Numerous studies have pointed towards the decreasing prevalence rate of T2DM among people that follow a plant-based diet (2). This is partly because trans and saturated fats, that can be found in animal tissue, have a strong correlation with insulin resistance in muscle and other tissue, which left unchecked, will likely lead to a diagnosis of T2DM (2). Typically, plant-based foods are low in these fats, while providing fibre and beneficial phytonutrients, all of which are lacking in animal-based foods and in many diets (2).
Despite this, it is important to note that no single dietary pattern is going to be the end-all, be-all to this issue and our energy should not be spent trying to strictly follow one specific dietary pattern. Rather, focus on enjoying a variety of whole plant foods in a way that can be maintained in the diet.
The good news? Type 2 diabetes is generally preventable with a healthful diet and exercise, and if you're going to take one thing from this post, I encourage you to find joy in trying new recipes and foods, especially with vegetables and fruits. Enjoy these foods with your loved ones and take care of your body the way it takes care of you. Not because it's just another thing you have to do, but because it makes you feel good.
1. Diabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee. (2018). Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada. Chapter 11. Can J Diabetes. 2018;42 (Suppl 1):S1-S325. Retrieved from http://guidelines.diabetes.ca/Browse/Chapter11
2. McMacken, M., & Shah, S. (2017). A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of geriatric cardiology: JGC, 14(5), 342–354. https://doi.org/10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.009
3. One in three Canadians is living with diabetes or prediabetes, yet knowledge of risk and complications of disease remains low. (n.d.). In Diabetes Canada. Retrieved from
4. Type 2 Diabetes. (n.d.). in Diabetes Canada. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/type-23
5. What is Diabetes. (n.d.). In Diabetes Canada. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/what-is-diabetes