Plant-based diets are becoming more and more popular. Some people go vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons—for the welfare of animals and the planet. Others are focused on the health benefits of eliminating animal products, like avoiding excess hormones and antibiotics. Whatever the reason, there are many benefits to eating more plant-based foods, such as boosting fiber intake and getting in a good dose of antioxidants. But what does this mean for those living with diabetes? Are the health benefits the same? How does going vegetarian play a role in managing blood sugars?
If you’re thinking about going vegetarian, vegan, or simply looking to reduce your meat intake, here are some things to consider about adopting a plant-based diet while living with diabetes.
What Will Your Diet Consist Of?
There are several different versions of plant-based diets. Some people choose to completely eliminate all animal-based products from their lifestyle, including things like meat, eggs, cheese, and honey (a vegan diet). Other versions only focus on eliminating animal flesh but still allow for some animal products—things like cheese, eggs, and milk (vegetarianism).
There is no right answer as to exactly “how vegetarian” you should be – it’s really a matter of personal preference. But, whatever you plan to exclude from your diet, it’s very important to think about what you plan to replace it with.
When completely eliminating meat, it’s important to eat a variety of plant-based sources of protein to make up for what you’re removing from your diet. Things like nuts, seeds, beans, tofu and tempeh make great replacements for meat in everyday meals. Yogurt, cheese and eggs also contain high amounts of protein if you plan to keep those in your diet.
Try to fill up on foods rich in fiber and antioxidants, like colorful fruits and non-starchy vegetables. This will be key in staying full and meeting your nutrient requirements throughout the day.
Finally, if you are planning to go vegan, consider including a multivitamin with B12 into your daily routine, since most sources of the nutrient are found in animal-based foods.
How Will You Manage Your Blood Sugars?
When going vegetarian, it’s quite common for people to end up consuming more carbohydrates than they used to. For someone living with diabetes, this can end up spiking blood sugars and making it more difficult to keep blood glucose stabilized.
Avoid this common mistake by making sure you’re not replacing animal foods with sources of carbohydrates. At each meal, aim to get a full serving of protein, fat and fiber. These three nutrients help to slow the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, making them essential for maintaining balanced blood sugars.
Need some meal planning tips? Check out the USDA’s vegetarian MyPlate for ideas on how to create well balanced meals without meat. Essentially this guideline recommends that, for each meal, you fill up half of your plate with non-starchy fruits and veggies, a quarter with a high-fiber carbohydrate, and the remaining quarter with a plant-based protein.
Will Going Vegetarian Cure Your Diabetes?
Going vegetarian won’t necessarily get rid of your diabetes but there are some great benefits to following a more plant-based diet. For example, eating a diet that’s comprised of mostly plant-based foods has been associated with reduced body weight, lower cholesterol, and improved insulin sensitivity—all of which are important factors in staying healthy while living with diabetes.
Still on the fence? The good news is you don’t have to completely eliminate meat to reap the benefits of adding in more plant-based foods to your weekly routine. If you do decide to go vegetarian or vegan, meet with a Registered Dietitian to ensure you’re getting in all the proper nutrients you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. (As always, be sure to talk your doctor before you make any changes to your diet.)