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Vegan Diet and Diabetes: What You Should Know

Vegan-Diabetes
8 min reading time

Vegan Diet and Diabetes: What Should You Know?

A vegan diet is a way of eating that excludes animal products, this means not eating anything that contains ingredients from animals. Instead, vegan diets are composed exclusively of plant foods.  

There’s strong scientific evidence that many chronic diseases (heart disease, certain cancers, and more) can be prevented and controlled with a healthy vegan diet. This includes type 2 diabetes. 

Often, people also have more energy, reduced inflammation, and they feel better overall after removing animal products from their diet.

If you’re interested in following a vegan diet and you have diabetes, it’s essential to understand how to meal plan, shop, and self-monitor to be successful.

This article provides a guide to the vegan diabetic diet including its pros and cons, top tips on how to succeed on the diet, along with a 3-day vegan diabetic meal plan.

Disclaimer

This article uses the term “diabetic” when referring to a person living with diabetes. Please note that this term is only used to help people find this article, but that my philosophy is that they are people living with diabetes and are not “diabetics”. 

Because type 2 diabetes has a connection to diet and exercise, there is a great deal of stigma and feelings of shame that can accompany diagnosis. 

My hope is that shifting how we talk and think about diabetes will improve health outcomes for people with diabetes and reduce the prejudice surrounding the condition.

You are not alone in your feelings and I am here to support you.

Diabetes-Vegan-Diet

How to approach the vegan diet and diabetes

Although veganism can be a very nutritious way of eating, it requires some planning to make sure you’re meeting all your nutritional needs.

In general, people with diabetes should aim to keep their carbohydrate intake consistent throughout the day, or at least have a good grasp of the carbohydrates they’re eating, as carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels more than protein and fat.

 

The best way to follow a vegan diet and manage diabetes is to have a balance of plant-based protein, carbs, and healthy fat in each meal and snack. This will ensure best possible blood sugar management. 

 

All of this can be done using only plant foods. It may be a bit challenging if you’re new to the vegan diet. Rest assured, though – you’re in the right place! 

 

As a registered vegan dietitian, I can help you discover how going vegan is an amazing decision for your health and diabetes management, and that it’s a lot simpler than you might expect.

 

Veganism and diabetes staples

Here are some examples of carbs, proteins, and fats that you can use to build meals and snacks if you’re following a vegan diet for diabetes:

Carbohydrates: Whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, oats, oat flour, brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain tortilla wraps, whole/frozen fruits 

 

Protein: canned beans/lentils/chickpeas, tofu, soy milk, frozen edamame, hummus

 

Fats: extra-virgin olive oil, peanut butter, nuts and seeds, avocado

 

A lot of plant-based foods are actually what I like to call diabetes “superfoods”. For example, beans and legumes contain an amazing mixture of carbs and protein which are great for blood sugar control. Whole grains also have a balance of carbs and protein. 

Both whole grains and beans also have tons of fiber which makes them more filling and may also help reduce their blood sugar impact. Power to whole grains and beans!

A note on type 1 diabetes and veganism

This article will mainly focus on modifiable lifestyle factors and address those living with type 2 diabetes. However, veganism and plant-based diets are great for type 1 diabetes! 

Based on the type of diabetes you have, your physical activity level, age, sex, medical history, and usual diet, your registered dietitian nutritionist can help you determine the best dietary pattern for you. 

Diabetic-Vegan-Diet

Potential benefits of veganism and diabetes

Vegan diets have shown positive results on diabetes in numerous studies. 

Overall, dietary factors most associated with strongly decreased risk of diabetes complications are plant-based foods such as veggies, fruits, whole grains, and fiber. 

Improved blood sugar control

Choosing the right foods helps the body maintain good blood glucose control. This is especially important when the body’s regulatory system (insulin metabolism) is challenged, as in diabetes. 

Chronically high blood sugar accelerates the development of life-threatening complications. Foods with a lower glycemic impact can help people with diabetes control blood sugars and manage their risks. 

There have been some reports of the vegan diet causing high blood sugar. However, these results have been found in vegans consuming high glycemic index (GI) and refined carbohydrates. 

Relative to non-vegetarian diets, vegan diets have a low overall GI. Some of the best lower GI vegan foods include fiber-rich whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and vegetables. 

Less insulin resistance on the vegan diet

Insulin resistance is a key characteristic in type 2 diabetes development. 

Researchers theorize that animal proteins may contribute more strongly to the development of insulin resistance than plant proteins

From preliminary results, it appears that a well-balanced vegan diet is a way to support lower insulin resistance

Weight management

As body fat increases, insulin resistance tends to increase. 

A vegan diet can help you lose weight. Plant foods are naturally less calorie-dense and higher in fiber. These can lead to feeling fullness without overeating. 

Check out this article for beginner tips on how to lose weight on a vegan diet.

Veganism-Diabetes-Diet

Potential downsides of veganism and diabetes

There are some potential risks to the vegan diet for people with diabetes. However, these downsides are avoidable with careful planning and support from a registered dietitian

Nutrient deficiencies

Like with any dietary pattern, it’s important to eat a variety of foods to ensure you are meeting all your nutritional needs. 

A well-planned vegan diet that includes nutrient-rich whole foods and fortified foods can help provide adequate nutrient levels. 

Nonetheless, you might find it tricky to get enough vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, omega-3, and iodine on a vegan diet. 

For information on how to obtain these nutrients through vegan foods and/or supplements, check out my in-depth article.  

Low protein intake

You have probably heard the myth that you can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet. This is simply not true!

However, keep in mind that protein plays an extra important role in controlling blood sugar in diabetes. Ensure you include a source of vegan protein at every meal and snack. 

Here are some of my favourite vegan protein sources:

  • Tofu: 20 grams per 1 cup

  • Tempeh: 15 grams per ½ cup

  • Legumes: 14 grams per 1 cup

  • Soy milk: 9 grams per 1 cup

  • Quinoa: 8 grams per 1 cup

  • Nut butters: 8 grams per 2 tbsp

  • Steel cut oats: 8 grams per ¾ cup

  • Whole grain bread: 7 grams per 2 slices

  • Nuts: 7 grams per ¼ cup

  • Hemp seeds: 7 grams per 2 tbsp
Vegan-Diet-Diabetes

My top tips for the vegan diabetic diet

Here are my top beginner veganism and diabetes tips:

Plan ahead 

I often see people initially struggling to maintain a healthy vegan diabetic diet because they lack recipe ideas, don’t have the energy to cook, or don’t know what to buy at the grocery store. Take a few minutes each week and plan your meals for the week. 

Eat plenty of greens and veggies

Nonstarchy vegetables are low in carbohydrates and full of fiber. Hello, fullness and stable blood sugar!

Balance each meal and snack

Include plant-based protein, carbs, and healthy fat in each meal and snack

Get all your nutrients

Take a vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplement. Talk to a registered dietitian to see if you need additional iron, omega-3, iodine, etc. 

Monitor your blood sugars frequently

Be aware of your patterns and trends

 

Sample 2-day vegan diabetic meal plan

This healthy vegan diabetic meal plan features diabetes-friendly foods, including low-glycemic-index carbohydrates such as oats and pulses, and healthy fats like avocado. 

Depending on your goals and lifestyle, your calories and carbohydrates may need to be different. Adjust the number of snacks or portion sizes according to your preferences:

 

Day one:

Day two:

Conclusion

To maximize the potential benefits of a vegan diet in the treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes, the diet must be based on whole plant foods, such as veggies, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. 

It’s also important that the diet be designed with care to ensure adequate intakes of all nutrients, especially vitamins B12 and D, and essential fatty acids like omega-3. 

For one-on-one veganism and diabetes counseling, book a free consultation call with me today!