Tackling a Vegetarian Diet

If you have ever met someone that follows a vegetarian diet, most likely you have automatically assumed that a person is health conscious and fit! As someone with diabetes, you may feel that trying a vegetarian diet, also referred to as a plant-based diet, will be too hard because your food and portions are already limited. But did you know that following a diet high in plant-based foods and low in animal-based proteins may have some amazing benefits for your diabetes?

What are the benefits of following a vegetarian or vegan diet when you have diabetes?

A study done in Shanghai in 2016 of 279 vegetarians and 279 omnivores (people that consume meat) showed that people following a vegetarian diet had higher insulin sensitivity than the meat-eaters. “It has been suggested that vegetarian diet may have a potential protective effect on the prevention and treatment of diabetes and its complications,” Xiuhua Shen, MD, PhD, of the department of nutrition in the School of Public Health at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, and colleagues wrote. “However, whether the higher insulin sensitivity status in vegetarians is accounted for by weight loss remains unclear and controversial.”1 The researchers concluded “A plant-based diet with a variety of foods rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which may have a direct effect on alleviating inflammation and oxidative stress, may account for the higher insulin sensitivity in vegetarians, and especially vegans,” the researchers wrote. “Vegetarians, especially vegans, maybe in a healthier insulin sensitivity status than omnivores, which is not completely accounted for by the difference of BMI.” The vegetarians in the study had been following a vegetarian diet for at least one year.

How do I follow a plant-based diet and still get all the nutrients I need?

People that follow a vegetarian diet may have to do some extra planning to meet their protein needs at each meal. This is because most plants do not contain all of the amino acids needed to make up a complete protein. However, it is not complicated in reaching these complete proteins if you know how to pair foods to make them. This is called complementary proteins. Complementary proteins are pairs of foods that when eaten together contain all of the amino acids to make a complete protein. Black beans and tortillas, garbanzo beans and rice, and peanut butter on whole grain bread are all examples of complementary proteins.

Do I have to give up milk and eggs?

Lacto-ovo vegetarians are those that eat a mostly plant-based diet but also have milk, milk products such as yogurt, and eggs. This may be easier for you to follow than quitting all meat “cold turkey.” Continuing to eat milk and eggs also gives you a larger variety for your diet which may make it easier to follow. Topping a green salad with a hard boiled egg, or choosing scrambled eggs for breakfast with some shredded cheese are great ways to incorporate these food groups into your diet.

So what do you think? Could a vegetarian diet work for you?

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