One of my patients – who had been struggling with obesity, uncontrolled diabetes and the cost of her medications – agreed in June 2019 to adopt a more whole-food plant-based diet.
Excited by the challenge, she did a remarkable job. She increased her fresh fruit and vegetable intake, stopped eating candy, cookies and cakes and cut down on foods from animal sources. Over six months, she lost 19 pounds and her HbA1c – a measure of her average blood sugar – dropped from 11.5% to 7.6%.
She was doing so well, I expected that her HbA1c would continue to drop and she would be one of our plant-based successes who had reversed diabetes.
Her three-month follow-up visit in March 2020 was canceled because of COVID-19 lockdowns. When I eventually saw her again in May 2021, she’d regained some of the weight and her HbA1c had climbed to 10.4%. She explained that her diabetes doctor and a diabetes nurse educator had told her that she was eating too much “sugar” on the plant-based diet.
She’d been advised to limit carbohydrates by cutting back on fruits and starchy vegetables and eating more fish and chicken. Sugar-free candy, cakes, cookies and artificial sweeteners were encouraged. In the face of conflicting medical advice, she fell back on conventional wisdom that “sugar” is bad and should be avoided whenever possible, especially if you have diabetes.
I’m a physician, board certified in preventive medicine with a lifestyle medicine clinic at Morehouse Healthcare in Atlanta. This emerging medical specialty focuses on helping patients make healthy lifestyle behavior modifications. Patients who adopt whole-food plant-based diets increase carbohydrate intake and often see reversal of chronic diseases including diabetes and hypertension. In my clinical experience, myths about “sugar” and carbohydrates are common among patients and health professionals.