Vegetarianism and Diabetes

Your dietitian can help you modify your daily meal plan.

Adopting a well-structured vegetarian diet can be suitable for a person with diabetes, and may even be beneficial. Whether or not you consider becoming a vegetarian, substituting dishes based on plant protein (tofu, beans, etc.) for meat-based dishes from time to time is a good habit.

There are many reasons to be a vegetarian: health and feeling of well-being, religion, culture, ethics, the environment, as well as economics.

Vegetarianism can be more or less strict. Generally, the main sources of protein are legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, etc.), soy and its derivatives (tofu, tempeh, etc.) and nuts, but some people also eat some protein from animal sources, such as fish, milk, eggs and even poultry.

The benefits for a person with diabetes

Several aspects of a vegetarian diet are beneficial for a person with diabetes.

  • The diet is high in dietary fibre, which has a positive impact on blood sugar, satiety, blood lipids and a decrease of cardiovascular disease’s risk.  
  • The diet is low in total and saturated fats, helping to lower bad cholesterol (LDL), blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is higher for people with diabetes.
  • The diet helps achieve a healthy weight, which promotes insulin sensitivity.

Your daily meal plan can be modified to account for the often higher intake of fibre and carbohydrates in a vegetarian diet. Your dietitian can help you do this.

Risks?

Depending on the type of vegetarianism and stage of life (pregnancy, lactation, childhood, adolescence, and old age), the intake of certain nutrients needs to be closely monitored:

  • protein
  • vitamin B12
  • vitamin D
  • zinc
  • iron
  • calcium
  • iodine
  • folic acid
  • omega-3 fats

Adopting a vegetarian diet may require a reassessment of your medication based on your blood sugar control and blood cholesterol. Sometimes, a supplement is necessary. Consult a dietitian to determine whether your diet meets all your nutritional needs. Your doctor can also use a blood test to check if you are deficient in any nutrients.

The risks of a vegetarian diet mostly come from poor menu planning, often when people have a restricted, repetitious diet.

Tips for a balanced vegetarian diet

  • Choose a variety of foods, including whole-grain products, vegetables, fruit, legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds, and, if desired, some animal-based foods.
  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • At every meal, eat a source of protein, such as legumes and pulses, tofu, peanut butter, nuts, etc.
  • If your diet excludes dairy milk, drink enriched milk substitutes (e.g.: soy or other enriched plant-based beverages).
  • Design your meals based on the balanced plate model.
  • If needed, take vitamin and mineral supplements, as advised by your healthcare provider.

 

Research and text: Dietician team, Diabetes Quebec

July 2014 (Updated June 2018)

©All rights reserved Diabetes Quebec 

Reference:

Sievenpiper J, Chan C, Dworatzek P et al. Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada: Nutrition Therapy. Can J Diabetes 2018; 42 (Suppl 1): S64-S79.