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Building a Vegan-Vegetarian Diet for Diabetics
By Michelle Maxwell, MS, RD
Vegetarian and vegan dishes seem to be gaining a great deal of popularity. It’s easy to find these options in different restaurants, but how do you figure out how to prepare these meals at home? Another question may be, can I even follow this diet if I’m a diabetic? Before you begin to feel as though you can’t lead a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, it’s important to take a look at the options available.
Let’s start with some of the reasons why these diets may be attractive to some. Both vegan and vegetarian diets encourage meals that focus on consuming more fruits, vegetables and plant based proteins. We know that the benefits of a plant-based diet include increased vitamins and minerals, decreased fat intake, and decreased risk of several diseases, including diabetes. Additionally, many people have even been able to see weight loss and changes to their body composition while on these diets. With characteristics such as these, we’re reminded that these diets have much to offer.
As a diabetic, it may be comforting to know that it is perfectly safe to follow either diet. Low fat, plant-based diets have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, and in some studies, they have improved A1c levels just as much as following a diabetic diet. Vegan and vegetarian diets have also proven to be beneficial in preventing co-morbidities associated with diabetes. For instance, the reduced fat intake decreases the risk cardiovascular disease, and the removal of animal protein can decrease the risk of renal disease.
With the need to maintain an appropriate diet while living with diabetics, it’s good to know certain pieces of information in advance if you want to get started. Be sure to plan out your meals, especially in the beginning. It is very hard to improvise healthy meals, especially if you are accustomed to meat with most of your meals. Make a customized list of plant based proteins that you enjoy, and consider foods such as nuts, beans, lentils and soy products. Be careful of the trap of replacing meat with unrefined carbs. This can be very easy to do considering that they are so readily available. Learn about carb counting. Carbohydrates still play an important role in your blood glucose. Incorporate a multivitamin into your daily diet to make sure you get an adequate amount of B12. Read labels! Some of these fake meat products on the market can be very heavy in carbohydrates and other additives that may not necessarily be needed.
In summary, a vegetarian or vegan diet can be a great option for diabetics to consider. It can help with gaining more control the disease sooner than later, and it can also prevent future co-morbidities. Neither are easy in the beginning, but with the right amount of research, preparation and practice, they will get easier over time. As with anything, speak with your physician, and if possible a dietitian, before changing your current diet.
Michelle Maxwell received her B.S. in dietetics and M.S. in Nutrition and Food Science from The Florida State University.
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