Managing Diabetes Through a Vegetarian Diet

Woman with Diabetes Measuring Blood Sugar & Eating Fresh Vegetables

While there is no cure for diabetes, whether Type I or Type II, it can be controlled and managed through several treatment methods.

Diet can play a large part in managing diabetes, to the point where some patients may even experience a remission of diabetic symptoms and can decrease their insulin use.

However, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center, that does not mean the disease has been cured, as by the time Type I has been diagnosed about 90 percent of insulin-producing cells in the body have already been destroyed.

The same mechanism can still be active, even though weight loss and blood sugar management through dietary means could potentially reduce the need for insulin. It can also significantly reduce the complications from the diabetes disease later on. One of potentially beneficial diets to help manage blood sugar levels and begin a weight loss program is the vegetarian diet.

Woman with Diabetes Measuring Blood Sugar & Eating Fresh Vegetables

Different Types of Vegetarian Diets and Their Impact on Mortality

Strictly speaking, vegans do not eat any form of dairy or eggs, as well as no red meat, poultry, or seafood. However, that change can be too drastic for some people to start right away, and isn’t critical if you are just trying to get health benefits from reducing red meat consumption in your diet.

However, vegans experience a 15 percent drop in mortality rates compared to non-vegetarians, according to a study done by the Seventh Day Adventists on a sample of over 73,000 individuals surveyed between 2002 and 2007.

Friends Enjoying Healthy, Vegetarian Meal Together

But most vegetarian diets show a drop in mortality rates even if they’re not strictly vegan. For instance, here are a few possible diets that can help with diabetes that aren’t strictly vegan:

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian Diet

In this diet, people are allowed to eat eggs and dairy as well as a plant-based diet. No meat is allowed. This group experienced a nine percent drop in mortality rates for the same study.

Semi-Vegetarian Diet

This diet includes poultry and fish, but very sparingly. It avoids red meat completely. The bulk of the diet is plant-based. However, semi-vegetarians in the study experienced an eight percent drop in mortality rates compared to non-vegetarians.

Pesco-Vegetarian Diet

This diet includes fish as a meat substitute in the diet with some surprising results. The drop in mortality rate was even higher than for vegans. The drop in mortality rates was 19 percent higher than non-vegetarians, and 15 percent higher than strict vegans.

How a Vegetarian Diet Helps Promote Health

Red meats and poultry tend to have higher quantities of fats that can clog the arteries and thus can contribute to the development of heart disease, cancer, and obesity. The extra pounds tend to exacerbate conditions like diabetes. High blood pressure can also result.

However, once a vegetarian diet is implemented the same drawbacks can become positives that vegetarians experience:

Beneficial Weight Loss

By reducing meat consumption, many people easily reduce total inbound calories in their diets. By including more plant-based fiber, they still get the experience of feeling full without all the extra fat. The weight loss can help lower the need for insulin in some diabetes patients.

Less fat in the diet can also lead to a lower Body Mass Index (BMI). Overall, diabetics can help control blood sugar levels more easily and with fewer complications from the disease when patients are not dealing with being overweight as well.

Lower Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer

The Loma Linda University did a study on vegetarians and their rate of colorectal cancer decreased when compared to non-vegetarians. In particular, vegetarians reduced their risk of the disease by 22 percent, whereas pesco-vegetarians reduced their risk by as much as 43 percent. The Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to help in the reduction of heart disease and cancer and thus a pesco-vegetarian diet, which is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, can be helpful for the reduction of chronic conditions like diabetes as well.

Eating Vegetarian Diet for Heart Health

Management of Blood Sugar Levels

Not only can a vegetarian diet help in the control of blood sugar levels but, according to the Mayo Clinic, it can also help with insulin response. This can help reduce the need for insulin.

What About Nutritional Requirements?

Vegetarian diets are often criticized for lacking important nutrients. After all, red meat is one of the best sources of protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, right?

Fortified milk is a good source of vitamin D and calcium. Fish is essential for omega-3 fatty acids and iodine. However, many of the fears of nutritional deficiencies can be alleviated with a semi-vegetarian or pesco-vegetarian diet.

If one goes full vegan, it is wise to pay attention to what foods can take the place of meat to provide the same nutritional benefits and even supplement the diet with vitamins and minerals, when necessary. (Learn more about where vegetarians get their protein, calcium and iron.)

How to Make the Switch and Stay on Track

Dietary changes can be challenging, but with so many different types of vegetarianism to choose from it can be less daunting. Going strictly vegan from a Standard American Diet (SAD) is simply not doable for some people, and might impact their nutritional needs.

There is some education that an individual must undergo as one starts to pay more attention to their food choices, particularly for diabetics. They may not realize that if they choose to be strictly vegan they will need to substitute nuts and beans to obtain the same proteins they got from meat. So, it can be easier for some to try a semi-vegetarian diet for a while before going full-blown vegetarian or vegan.

In addition, high-glycemic foods can derail even the best vegetarian diet if eaten to excess. By testing out the different forms of vegetarianism, people can get a good idea of how it feels emotionally and physically to be on a different diet and find the right dietary arrangement that works for them and their diabetic conditions.

After some reading and experimentation with new recipes, the switch often becomes more smooth and it becomes easier to stay on track when you have a repertoire of good vegetarian recipes to choose from with the ingredients in your pantry or refrigerator.

Make It A Fun Exploration, Not A Chore

For some, switching to a new diet can even be fun. It means you get to explore new recipes and new ingredients you may never heard of before. You may find you like tofu and tempeh, or that lentils and rice are your new comfort food. You can find novel ways to use nuts, including whirring them in a blender to produce your own almond milk.

Explore ethnic foods that have a high degree of vegetarianism built in, like Indian and Mexican cuisines. Go to vegetarian restaurants and see what’s on the menu then try to reproduce it at home. Explore whole grains like quinoa and brown rice. Be adventuresome with the diet!

Couple Enjoying Dinner at a Vegetarian Restaurant

Keep In Mind Your Diabetic Needs

To make sure that your diet is on track to meet your diabetic needs, always seek advice from your physician or nutritionist. They may steer you clear of high-glycemic foods, depending on how your diet turns out.

Your physician or nutritionist can educate you on the need for combining legumes with grains for a complete protein, or how to add products that are fortified with necessary dietary requirements, like soy milk fortified with vitamin D.

Beans & Legumes as Vegetarian Protein Source

They can also monitor your progress and provide additional community resources as you continue on your fascinating voyage of vegetarianism to manage blood sugar levels, reduce your need for insulin, and reduce complications from diabetes.

Guide to Understanding the Child Who Chooses Vegetarianism, for Meat-Eating Parents

Not every parent is capable of keeping his or her cool when a child marches in, tosses a backpack on the couch, and makes the grand announcement that she is giving up meat forever. The moment can be particularly ironic if you’re the parent and you’re about to put a meatloaf into the oven. Perhaps your instinct is to start lecturing her about health crises that can result from giving up meat. Or you react so dramatically, your child escapes to her room.

This is a critical moment for your youngster and for you, which is why it’s best to do whatever it takes to put a smile on your face, shrug and then toss an extra potato into the oven with the meatloaf. Letting this announcement percolate for as much time as you require, to come to grips with the decision your newly-anointed vegetarian or vegan offspring just made, is everyone’s chance to diffuse a potentially volatile confrontation that can make or break your relationship.

What to do first? Understand why he or she is undertaking this radical eating change by opening a meaningful dialog.

This too might pass.

All it takes is a new influence in your child’s life to turn her from independent soul to a follower of the herd. Somebody in her world decides to stop eating meat and your child wants to follow suit. This may or may not be a permanent lifestyle change and you sure don’t want to discourage her from trying something that won’t be harmful, and could even be a positive lifestyle change.

Understanding that nobody dies or suffers from malnutrition when a proper, nutrient-rich vegetarian diet is followed can help you cope — even at 3 a.m. when you’re sure her bones won’t survive adolescence if she doesn’t get plenty of chicken and burgers. Children often revert to their old meat-eating eating habits without much warning. Treat this as you would your child’s other attempts to spread her wings. Encourage her often and keep veggie burgers in the freezer, but be just as supportive if she decides to add meat to her diet again when you least expect it.

It’s an ideological statement.

Some people witness the slaughter of beef and decide never again to touch red meat. Others panic at the thought that the lobster blissfully waving a claw at them is about to be boiled alive. It happens. Your son may have encountered a philosophy that strikes a chord and as part of his maturation process, and makes a conscious decision to stop eating meat. Your support at this time is critical. No fair making fun or teasing; and let siblings and aunts who scold or lecture know that their comments aren’t appreciated. Ideological vegetarians sometimes stick to their eating plans for years and learn what combinations of foods substitute for meats, so if you’re housing a budding Sophocles, load up your house with beans, rice, nuts, veggie burgers and other protein substitutes and relax.

Teenager Experiments with Vegetarianism

S/he decides to experiment.

Body image is extremely important to young girls who hold up Rhianna, Miley Cyrus and the Kardashians as role models. Perhaps your daughter read an article about a rock star who has stopped eating meat and she decides to try a vegetarian diet, too. On the other hand, if you think your daughter is using this dietary switch because she is insecure about her body image or weight, it’s important to start a dialog immediately, just to make sure there are no deeper, hidden motives behind her dietary conversion. Like all experimental behavior, your child may get bored over time and revert back to her former eating habits, but in the interim, get some vegetarian recipe books from the library and make sure she gets all of the nutrients a growing girl needs.

S/he’s got ethical concerns.

Some science classes do more than teach a teen how to dissect a frog. These days, lectures and reading materials include studies on artificial hormones and livestock feed supplements formulated to speed up the growth process in livestock confined to small spaces, or enlightens people to the environmental impacts of meat. Respecting and supporting the ethical stand your youngster takes isn’t just the right thing to do, it gives you many opportunities to praise and commend him whenever for being an independent thinker with a mind of his or her own, and strong moral compass to guide them. You don’t have to stop grilling the steaks while uttering these compliments, because your understanding of why your child wants to stop eating meat ushers in an opportunity to talk about respecting the dietary wishes of everyone in the family. This mutual self-respect may even short-circuit any attempt to convert you if you’re not interested in trying it yourself.

S/he’s exercising her independence.

Kids flexing their independence muscles is terrific. Help her learn about this alternate lifestyle by passing along books and articles about vegan or vegetarian living, but peruse them yourself first; you don’t want to share articles that make negative judgments about this lifestyle. Sign up for a parent-and-child cooking class to show her that you’re on board with her decision and get her feedback on your meal plans. There are so many fabulous vegetarian recipes to prepare for your entire family that are meat-free and loaded with nutrients: veggie chili, soy milk shakes, tofu steaks, veggie burgers, peanut butter treats, nuts, and legumes. Satisfy your meatless insecurities by checking package labels and consulting nutrition guides so you choose foods with optimal amounts of the nutrients you’re most worried about, like omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, Vitamin B12, calcium and proteins.

Child Learning Vegetarian Recipes with Mom

You’re growing as a parent.

Is it easy to give up control of your child’s diet when you were raised to believe that the most important foods on the planet hang out in a barnyard? Hardly. But you might learn as you explore this topic, that lots of people have thrived without meat for 90 years and longer!

Like most lifestyle changes, your inherent biases, conditioning, and upbringing help shape your attitudes. If it helps, talk with people who have adopted vegetarian lifestyles early in life to assure yourself of their fitness and good health. Where to find them? Ask Yoga instructors, health food store merchants, certified nutritionists and naturopathic physicians—many of whom work with kids who stopped eating meat and wound up loving the vegetarian life. Like everything your child experiences, he or she will use you as their mirror every time a substantive issue like this arises. Make sure she sees a loving, encouraging parent willing to let her follow her heart.

How to Become a Vegetarian

First of all, congratulations on choosing to become a vegetarian! Whether it’s for health reasons, ethical reasons, environmental reasons or all of the above, we commend you for making a positive decision to change your life, and the lives of many others. Contrary to popular belief, becoming a vegetarian doesn’t mean you’re condemning yourself to a life of just salad. Here are some strategies for making the transition from omnivore to herbivore!

Method 1: Becoming a Vegetarian or Vegan Gradually

How to Become a Vegetarian

Some people choose to become vegetarians gradually. This gradual method of becoming a vegetarian is ideal for someone who has been a lifelong meat eater and mistakenly thinks, “I could never do this completely!” Believe me, you can! I’ve done it! The gradual removal of meat products can make the transition a little easier and make you less likely to rebound and binge. You could start by cutting out all red meat, then two weeks later cut out white meat, then after that remove fish from your diet. After that comes the surprisingly non-vegetarian products like gelatin and becoming more aware of what ingredients are in your food. As your diet becomes more wholesome and produce heavy, your body and mind will start to miss meat less and less. If you decide to take the next steps to become a vegan, you could begin by cutting out eggs, then cheese, milk and other dairy, and then for strict vegans any honey or other animal byproducts.

Method 2: Quitting Meat Cold-Turkey

“Cold Turkey.” Haha! See what we did there? Some people never consumed much meat, or are very familiar with cooking or vegetarian food, so quitting all at once is the right choice for them. It can be more challenging for someone who is accustomed to having meat and animal byproducts in their diet, but it IS doable. It takes strength, commitment and resolve. If you’re quitting all at once, we commend you and are here to support you if it gets tough!

Method 3: Becoming a Part-Time Vegetarian

Not ready to commit to the full-on vegetarian lifestyle? That’s ok. There are many levels of vegetarianism. We hope you’ll join us fully eventually, but in the meantime there are many ways to cut back your meat intake and start seeing the benefits of vegetarianism for yourself. Try “Meatless Mondays” – one day per week where you are guaranteed to go entirely meat-free in all your meals. After that, try cutting back to having meat no more than two days per week. Even that big reduction in meat consumption can have a significant impact on your health, your waist line, your pocketbook and the environment.  We hope that you start to see the many benefits of vegetarianism and decide to take the plunge full-time!