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Pros and Cons of going Vegetarian for Diabetes

Have you noticed more veggie meat-free options at your grocery store or favourite restaurants lately? Dairy-free cheese, meatless sausages and plant-based burgers are just a few tasty vegetarian selections that even meat-eaters can enjoy. 

People choose to go vegetarian for a variety of reasons. Some want to lose weight, some care about animals, and others do it to help their health or the environment. For people with diabetes, a vegetarian lifestyle can take some getting used to. But, it can also make you feel more energised, lighter and happier. 

Going vegetarian means giving up meat, and some people go vegan, which eliminates all animal products, including dairy and eggs. Whatever way you go, swapping meat for vegetables, even a few days a week, may have health benefits.

If you're wondering if going vegetarian for diabetes is good for you, here are some pros and cons.


Pros of Vegetarian Food for Diabetes 

1. You're Likely to Lose Weight

Vegetarians typically eat less calories, less fat and weigh less than meat eaters do. (2) Eating vegetarian foods in their whole forms (not processed or fried) can help you eat less calories and still feel satisfied. 

A study found Vegetarian diets appeared to have benefits on weight reduction compared to non-vegetarian diets. (4) Even when eating similar caloric amounts, those on the vegetarian diet lost more weight, reduced body fat and boosted metabolism.


2. You'll Increase Your Intake of Heart-Healthy Nutrients

Health isn't just about weight. We need nutrients like phytochemicals, folic acid, vitamins C and E, dietary fibre, potassium and magnesium to keep our hearts healthy. Compared to meat eaters, vegetarians get more of these. (5) And vegetarians typically consume less cholesterol and saturated fat.


3. A Vegetarian Diet May Improve Blood Sugar Control

Blood sugar control is so important when you have diabetes. Research has shown that eating more vegetarian food can help with diabetes and blood glucose management. (6) 

If you want to be more mobile and increase your muscle strength, vegetarianism can also help. (4, 7) If you have ever been frustrated by a “slow metabolism,” swapping meat for plant-based foods can give your metabolism a boost.


Misconceptions with Vegetarian Diets 

Think you won't get enough protein if you give up meat? Think again. That is a common misconception. There are plenty of plant-based foods that are an excellent source of protein, like: (8)

·         Nuts and seeds

·         Legumes like beans, lentils and chickpeas

·         Vegetables like broccoli, kale and asparagus

·         Grains like quinoa and brown rice

Another common misconception is that going vegetarian is going to be expensive. It may actually be cheaper than eating meat. Just think about what a veggie pasta at a restaurant costs compared to a steak. 

Even though a vegetarian diet can be really healthy, you should still watch out for these misconceptions.


1. All Vegetarian Foods Are Healthy

If you are a vegetarian who is living on fatty fried foods, sugary foods and drinks, and high-carb foods, you are probably worse off than someone who eats lean meats and veggies.

Vegetarians who want to gain health benefits should avoid processed foods like frozen pizza, fizzy drinks, pastries and French fries. These foods have high calorie and fat counts.


2. Vegetarians get all their necessary vitamins and nutrients

Vitamin B12 is important for red blood cell production and nervous system functioning. It is a nutrient that vegetarians and vegans may be at risk for low consumption of. (10) Those with type 2 diabetes may also be low in B12. (11)

B12 is found in animal products, but vegetarians can get it in B12-fortified foods like bread and plant-based milk, or a supplement. (12)


3. I won’t miss meat, will I?

Food cravings are real, but they are just as psychological as physiological. Here are things you can do to manage your meat cravings.

·         Remember your “why.” Write down why you are going vegetarian. Maybe it is to lose weight, gain more energy or improve diabetes management. Or maybe your why is to be a healthier example for your kids, or because you want to make environmentally-friendly nutrition choices. Whatever your reason, write it down and post it where you can see it as a reminder when you need it.

·         Meal plan. Take a shopping list with you when you go to the shops, so you stick to what you came in for. Try new veggie-friendly recipes based on your favourite meat-filled ones, like a mushroom stroganoff instead of beef. Get your family involved in choosing recipes, so they support you on your journey. Have fun cooking in the kitchen together so you can take pride in your meals.

·         Ask for recommendations. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate vegetarians and vegans. Seek out restaurants with vegetarian items, and ask for recommendations when you go out to eat.

If you love a certain type of meat, there is probably a product you can swap it out with. Use tofu instead of ricotta in lasagna. Grill up a veggie burger at a barbecue. Focus on the experiences and fun times you have at meals instead of just the food.


You Don't Have to Give Up Meat 'Cold Turkey'

Switching from a meat-eating lifestyle to vegetarian or vegan doesn't have to be instant. If becoming vegetarian for diabetes is something that interests you, you can make the switch gradually. Adopt a Meatless Monday habit, or try to cook vegetarian two times for every one time you eat meat. 

There are so many delicious vegetarian ingredients you can try. Spend more time in the grocery produce section, and pick up some new ingredients. Buy ones that are on sale to save even more money, and use those to inspire your recipes. As you open up your palate to new flavors, you might find that the transition is easier than you envisioned. 

Always consult your Health Care Professional before making changes to your diet or eating plan.


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