Maybe you’ve been a vegetarian for as long as you can remember, and then developed type 2 diabetes as an adult. Or maybe you received a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes as a child and decided during your teen years to become a vegetarian. Either way, if this describes you or someone you know, you may be wondering if it is possible to combine a vegetarian diet with one to manage diabetes.
The simple answer is yes, vegetarian meal plans and diabetes diets are compatible and both can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
The goal for any diet is to meet your personal nutritional requirements, but there are endless ways to do that based on what is available, affordable and acceptable to you. Vegetarians who only eat pizza and French fries are not making the best choices possible to meet their needs. People with diabetes who never eat fruit or whole grains aren’t either.
Vegetarian Meal Plans and Diabetes
The first step to combining a vegetarian diet with a diabetes diet is to make a list of the foods from each food group that you like and will eat and that you can easily purchase and prepare. The biggest difference for a vegetarian (compared to someone who is not a vegetarian) will be in the Protein Foods Group. A vegetarian’s list will include plant-based protein sources such as beans, peas, lentils, soy-based meat substitutes, nuts, nut butters and seeds instead of beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and fish. Eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt may be additional sources of protein for vegetarians who choose to include those foods.
Choices from each of the other food groups – Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Dairy and Oils - are the same for vegetarians, “meat eaters” and people with diabetes. The focus for all of them should be getting the best quality and variety of foods in the diet as possible and eating them in the right frequency and serving size. That may mean having two canned peach halves packed in natural juices when fresh peaches are not in season, mixing a cup of spiralized zucchini squash with a cup of spaghetti to reduce the carbohydrate content of a meal, or adding a bag of frozen edamame (soybeans) to a can of vegetable soup to boost the protein in each serving.
If you’re wondering how much honey, molasses and other added sugars a vegetarian diet for diabetes can contain, the answer is the same as for any other healthy person – less than 12 teaspoons a day for a 2000 calorie diet. That recommendation is based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans which state added sugars should be less than 10% of total calories whether you eat meat or not!
Reducing added sugars in the diet is important for everyone since many of the foods and drinks added sugars are found in can displace other foods that provide essential nutrients. The calories from those sugars can also contribute to weight gain. This is just as true for people who don’t have diabetes as those who do. Using low-calorie sweeteners, such as SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener Products, can help reduce added sugars in the diet without giving up the sweet taste that makes so many foods and beverages more enjoyable.
To show you some options possible when combining a diabetic diet with a vegetarian diet, I have put together some meal plan ideas below using “Diabetes Friendly” recipes found in the SPLENDA® Brand recipe files. Of course, it is not necessary to only use recipes specifically designed for diabetes, or, for that matter, only those developed for vegetarians. Just about any recipe can be tweaked to make it work for both purposes. Please note if you have diabetes, it is important to check with your healthcare provider to determine your personal meal plan and adjust these recipes, meal combinations and portion sizes accordingly.
*For the purposes here the vegetarian dishes here may include dairy, eggs and fish.
- Orange Yogurt Muffin and Banana-Peanut Chocolate Smoothie
- Oat Bran Pancakes topped with Mixed Berry Jam
- Banana Walnut Oatmeal and Frozen Almond Cappuccino
- Bean & Cheese Burrito topped with Southwest Citrus Salsa
- Veggie burger topped with mashed avocado, red onion and tomato on whole wheat roll with Raw Broccoli Salad
- Minestrone soup with Sweet Red Pepper Hummus and whole wheat crackers
- Ginger Noodle Salad tossed with veggie chicken strips and topped with roasted peanuts
- Tempeh and vegetable stir-fry with Teriyaki Sauce served over brown rice.
- Black Bean Chili with Hearty Corn Cakes
- Tofu “steaks” grilled and basted with Sweet and Smoky Barbecue Sauce and a side of Corn Relish
- Vegetarian “Bolognese” Sauce over spaghetti squash
- Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix
- Veggie Muffins
- Hollowed red pepper filled with Three Bean Salad
- Chocolate Yogurt Pops
I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.