Editor’s Spot: Plant-Based Eating and Diabetes
By Judith Riddle
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 24 No. 8 P. 6

In August, I listened to a virtual educational session from the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists conference called “The Power of a Culturally Sensitive Approach to Plant-Based Nutrition.” The presenter stated that African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Indians, and other people of color in the United States have higher rates of diabetes, serious complications, and resultant death than whites. But this doesn’t have to be.

To turn the tide, RDs must become increasingly aware of the impact that culture, history, immigration, and religious practices have on eating patterns among these populations. I learned that race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, and other factors shape individual values, beliefs, and behaviors about health and well-being.

Taking all of this into consideration when offering culturally sensitive diabetes care seems intimidating, but it’s possible through research, learning about the historical foodways of different cultures, and engaging in their communities.

What some RDs may not know is that people of color have ancestral histories of eating mostly plant foods and living with exceptionally low rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases. This was before immigration and acculturation to the United States. Many who have immigrated and have been living in the United States and eating a western diet for years have developed type 2 diabetes. To improve their health, several of these individuals decided to follow a plant-based diet that harkens back to their cultural roots, and as a result no longer depend on diabetes medications.

In a panel discussion during the session, health care professionals with diabetes from different ethnicities explained what led them to follow a plant-based diet, how they incorporated it into their culture, and the impact it had on their health. One man with type 2 diabetes and a long family history of the disease and serious complications said that after switching to a low-fat, whole-foods plant-based diet, he has lived for the past 101/2 years without diabetes medications. A dietitian who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 11 and followed dietary guidelines for years didn’t begin to feel well until she became a vegan. Today, she’s reduced her insulin intake by 50%, improved her mental health, and has renewed energy and vigor. She said, “Plant-based nutrition is the greatest missed opportunity in diabetes care going back 100 years.” And she said dietitians have the opportunity to counsel people about plant-based nutrition from the moment they’re diagnosed.

RDs also can help people with diabetes further optimize health outcomes and simplify self-care challenges after reading the article “Insulin Delivery Device Technology” on page 22.

Please enjoy the issue!

— Judith Riddle, Editor