Belegui Mendoza, 32, is a New York City-based nutritionist. The Veracruz, Mexico native is also vegan. At home, she enjoys her fresh fruits and often sautées her vegetables with Mexican spices.

Her research on the effects of plant-based diets took her to Costa Rica and then, the  United States. In the U.S., her patients’ biggest concerns relate to cardiovascular disease, particularly diabetes.

Mendoza said she has seen that the easiest way to combat diabetes is switching to a plant-based diet and exercising at least 40 minutes daily.

She shares her thoughts with NYUFoodWriting on nutrition, diabetes and self-care.

How did you decide to become a nutritionist?

My nutrition degree taught me the basics. Calorie intake, composition of junk food, metabolism, etcetera. Shortly after graduating, I did research for seven years on plant-based diets. The changes that our patients were undergoing were phenomenally positive. It even convinced myself to go vegan!

Now that I run my own nutrition consulting office, the first thing I usually recommend to my patients is to add certain vegetables to their diets, namely cauliflower broccoli and carrots. I would never suggest something I wouldn’t eat.

Type 2 diabetes, an equivalent of chronic heart disease, is one of the leading causes of deaths in Americans. What does it do to our bodies?

Diabetes is a problem that raises blood sugar levels to dangerous levels. This is caused by your body resisting insulin, which manages and lowers blood sugar levels.

How does a plant-based diet attack this problem?

There are many ways in which going on a plant-based diet, mainly vegan, helps counter diabetes. Directly, avoiding meaty and fatty diets decrease a person’s resistance to insulin. Consuming mostly vegetables still provides the necessary amounts of sugar. In addition, this sugar comes in the form of fructose, which is easily digestible by the human body.

This brings us to the second reason how a vegan diet combats diabetes. Eating natural sugars like fructose are easily processed by the average person’s metabolism. Ham, hot dogs and other meat products contain synthetic sugars like maltodextrin, which is considerably harder to break apart.

This leads to other consequences. A person’s metabolism is less efficient in transforming these synthetic sugars into energy. Not only does it result in higher blood sugar levels, but synthetics are also stored as fat that, left unchecked, can lead to weight problems.

Why do we eat animals at all, then?

Even though it isn’t my personal choice to do so, there’s nothing wrong with humans consuming animal flesh, fundamentally.

When humans first appeared on earth, they were nomads that scavenged for plant-based food, and hunted animals during the colder seasons, when, for lack of fruits and vegetables. Agriculture changed this, and humans became self sufficient.

Because of my heritage, I often remind myself of ancient Mexican civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans, whose diets were primarily plant-based for the longest time. It was the Spaniards who introduced beef and pork during their conquest.

So should we all become vegans or die?

Of course not! The reason I, like so many other nutritionists, will recommend a plant-based diet to patients facing diabetes or its risk, is due to the quality of the components of these foods.

Quality and efficiency are two key words that are mentioned often when discussing the adoption of a vegan diet for medical reasons.

Quality and efficiency from food?

Taking a shot of alcohol is bound to get you drunk quicker than if you slowly sip a drink. Likewise, consuming highly-processed meat products is like taking a “shot” of glucose. But unlike having shots with your friends every weekend–which, professionally, I wouldn’t recommend either–people are consuming these processed meats on a daily basis, sometimes in more than one meal.

These neither give our bodies the highest quality of natural sugars and fats that we need, nor do they provide our bodies with sugars and fats that our bodies can easily and efficiently break down.

In today’s market, the healthy sugars and fats are far more accessible through a plant-based diet than anything else.