By 2050, diabetes prevalence will double or even triple

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of type 2 diabetes has more than tripled in the past 30 years.[1] As of now, about one in ten Americans (about 24 million people) have type 2 diabetes. The CDC has predicted that one-fifth to one-third of all Americans will have diabetes by the year 2050, if current trends continue. [2] Excess weight promotes insulin resistance and is the chief risk factor for type 2 diabetes[3], so this prediction is not surprising given the prevalence of overweight and obesity, which are 68% and 33.8% of adults, respectively.[4]

Diabetes is taking a huge toll on the health of our nation:

  • Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Diabetes doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke.[5]
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and blindness in older adults.
  • Diabetes increases the risk of cancer, especially colorectal cancer.[6-8]

Diabetes is also taking a huge financial toll. Our unhealthy eating habits may eventually bankrupt our nation:

  • Healthcare costs related to diabetes are estimated to be $174 billion per year.
  • About 1 out of every 10 health care dollars is spent on diabetes.[2]
  • The average type 2 diabetic incurs $6649 in health care costs per year directly attributable to their diabetes. [9]

In order to prevent this prediction from proving true, our country has to change the way it approaches diabetes – we must emphasize prevention. The editors of the medical journal The Lancet have called it a “public health humiliation” that diabetes, a largely preventable disease, has reached such epidemic proportions. In reference to an American Diabetes Association national meeting, they said, “…there is a glaring absence: no research on lifestyle interventions to prevent or reverse diabetes. In this respect, medicine might be winning the battle of glucose control, but is losing the war against diabetes.” [10]

These authors are correct – this is a public health humiliation, because type 2 diabetes is both preventable and reversible. The American diet of refined grains, oils, sugars, and animal products is at the root of the crisis, and keeping glucose under control with drugs in individuals who continue to consume this diet will not prevent diabetes complications.

The cure for type 2 diabetes is already known – removing the cause can reverse the disease.

Many whole, plant foods are high in antioxidants and fiber and have low glycemic load, characteristics that make them effective at preventing and reversing diabetes. [11] As such, there have been a few randomized trials using a plant-based diet to treat diabetes, and they have had impressive results. In a 22-week study published in 2006, a low-fat plant-based diet allowed for an average decrease of 1.23 points in A1C, weight loss of 13 lbs., and 21.2% decrease in LDL cholesterol. Most importantly, 43% of the participants were able to reduce their diabetes medications. An earlier study reported a 28% decrease in fasting blood glucose, as well as reduction or discontinuation of diabetes medications.[12]

Based on my experience with diabetic patients, I believe that a high-nutrient plant-based (nutritarian) diet, focused on green vegetables and beans, along with exercise, is much more effective at reversing diabetes. My eating plan for diabetics, as outlined in my book Eat to Live, has helped hundreds of people get rid of their diabetes. Take Charlotte, for example: At age 56, 5’4” and 263 pounds, upon suffering a stroke, she was diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and with significant arterial blockages. She was confined to a wheelchair and was on several medications for all these ills. Charlotte and her husband then embarked on a nutritarian diet style to try to improve her health. A year and half later, Charlotte had lost half her body weight! Most importantly, she is no longer diabetic, and no longer has high cholesterol. Charlotte is now healthy.

Charlotte - before and after

Hundreds of others have exciting disease-reversal stories to tell and have also completely reversed their diabetes and that means that even those severe type II diabetics with failure to adequately control their glucose reading on multiple diabetic drugs, including insulin have made complete recoveries and no longer require any diabetic medications. With a nutritarian diet and exercise; food is more powerful than drugs.

Foods that provide substantial protection against diabetes:

  • Green, leafy vegetables. Pooled data from four studies determined that eating 1.35 servings (about 3.5 cups of raw greens) of green leafy vegetables vs. 0.2 servings or less per day provided a 14% decrease in diabetes risk [13]
  • Beans. Beans are high-nutrient, high-fiber, and low-calorie. They are digested slowly which induces satiety and stabilizes blood glucose. Therefore, beans are the most appropriate source of carbohydrate for diabetics. A study on 64,000 women followed for 4 years found that high intake of legumes were associated with a 38% decreased risk of diabetes.[14]
  • Nuts and seeds. An inverse relationship between nut consumption and diabetes was reported in the Nurses’ Health Study – 5 servings of nuts per week was associated with a 27% decrease in risk.[15]
  • Fresh fruit. Adding three servings of fresh fruit per day to one’s diet can decrease diabetes risk by up to 18%. (Note that those who already have diabetes should limit fresh fruit and focus on low sugar fruits) [16]

With Americans now consuming over 85 percent of calories as animal products and processed foods we could expect this tragic epidemic to continue. The only way to stop this worldwide trend toward dietary suicide is the type of broad public educational effort that has been organized against smoking. Obesity is responsible for more chronic disease than smoking [17]; we all must fight against the proliferation and consumption of junk food, fast food, processed foods and commercial and processed meats, which are at the root of the obesity epidemic.



1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Diabetes Data & Trends. 2008; Available from:
2. Boyle, J.P., et al., Projection of the year 2050 burden of diabetes in the US adult population: dynamic modeling of incidence, mortality, and prediabetes prevalence. Popul Health Metr, 2010. 8(1): p. 29.
3. Khaodhiar, L., S. Cummings, and C.M. Apovian, Treating diabetes and prediabetes by focusing on obesity management. Curr Diab Rep, 2009. 9(5): p. 348-54.
4. National Insitutes of Health: Overweight and Obesity Prevalence Estimates. Available from:
5. American Diabetes Association: Diabetes statistics. Available from:
6. Campbell, P.T., et al., Prospective study reveals associations between colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes mellitus or insulin use in men. Gastroenterology, 2010. 139(4): p. 1138-46.
7. Flood, A., et al., Diabetes and risk of incident colorectal cancer in a prospective cohort of women. Cancer Causes Control, 2010. 21(8): p. 1277-84.
8. He, J., et al., The association of diabetes with colorectal cancer risk: the Multiethnic Cohort. Br J Cancer, 2010. 103(1): p. 120-6.
9. Economic costs of diabetes in the U.S. In 2007. Diabetes Care, 2008. 31(3): p. 596-615.
10. Type 2 diabetes--time to change our approach. Lancet, 2010. 375(9733): p. 2193.
11. Jenkins, D.J., et al., Type 2 diabetes and the vegetarian diet. Am J Clin Nutr, 2003. 78(3 Suppl): p. 610S-616S.
12. Nicholson, A.S., et al., Toward improved management of NIDDM: A randomized, controlled, pilot intervention using a lowfat, vegetarian diet. Prev Med, 1999. 29(2): p. 87-91.
13. Carter, P., et al., Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis. Bmj, 2010. 341: p. c4229.
14. Villegas, R., et al., Legume and soy food intake and the incidence of type 2 diabetes in the Shanghai Women's Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr, 2008. 87(1): p. 162-7.
15. Jiang, R., et al., Nut and peanut butter consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. JAMA, 2002. 288(20): p. 2554-60.
16. Bazzano, L.A., et al., Intake of Fruit, Vegetables, and Fruit Juices and Risk of Diabetes in Women. Diabetes Care, 2008. 31(7): p. 1311-1317.
17. Rand Corporation. Research Highlights: The Health Risks of Obesity. Worse than Smoking, Drinking, or Poverty. 2002; Available from:


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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Vikki - November 12, 2010 3:30 PM

Thank you for all you do to keep us informed. It's so much easier to stay healthy than to reverse bad health.

Amy - November 12, 2010 3:52 PM

Thanks for all the work you do, Dr. Fuhrman. I plan to follow a healthy plant based diet and exercise for many years to come and avoid this diabetes epidemic. It is indeed sad that things have gotten so out of control in this country.

MIke Rubino - November 13, 2010 7:44 PM

Dr F You are a voice in the wilderness. Too bad 99.9% of the doctors today dont know what you do and only follow standard medical protocol of prescription drugs for just about everything that ales you and if you cant prescibe for it then operate on it.. I really see little hope that the predicitions will not come true.People and dcotors are just that dumb.

maya - November 15, 2010 8:47 AM

hoping you guys will do a post on the "twinkie diet" guy. i'm afraid that the fact that his cholesterol numbers improved will give so many people the wrong idea.,0,405998.story

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