Vegetarianism and Diabetes

by Kerry Potter

As a dietitian who specializes in diabetes, I am a strong promoter of more holistic options to prevent complications of diabetes before exploring the use of medications.

vegetarianism_and_diabetes_imageSo what is Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and what contributes to the development of the disease? Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus is characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body's ability to produce and/or use insulin. It’s almost like your pancreas is on strike! Insulin is a hormone our body needs to deliver sugar into our cell to provide us with energy. Some of the contributors to Type 2 Diabetes include excess weight, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and lack of physical activity. These are just to name a few.

So what are the first two things I focus on in diabetes classes? You guessed it: nutrition and exercise! With so much information out there for diabetes prevention, it can be confusing what to do. Often, when individuals learn they have diabetes or prediabetes, they focus so much on restricting carbohydrates and calories from their diets that they easily get discouraged and obsessed with food. Instead of focusing on a restrictive approach which I feel will later turn to self-deprivation and eventual binging on “bad” foods, I focus on ways individuals can incorporate more beneficial foods to their diet that will give them more energy and not harm their blood glucose levels.

I am not a proponent of only recommending one type of diet for everyone as every person is individual and responds differently to different foods. However, plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins—all important in blood sugar metabolism. I often find with many of my patients that they are not getting enough vegetables or healthy protein options. These are keys to success to prevent complications from high blood sugars. Blood sugar issues often arise due to an overconsumption of saturated fats in high fat meats and dairy products, as well as too many processed carbohydrates.   Americans in general save their vegetable intake for their last meal of the day, dinner. I believe that getting 10 to 12 servings of veggies a day would solve a lot of blood sugar issues people experience.

However, people, especially my patients in my diabetes classes, have a misconception about vegetables not being the sexiest, fun food of the bunch. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of amazing commercials promoting wholesome produce.

vegetables_filled_with_fiber_vitamins_minerals_picToo much saturated fat in the diet has been linked to insulin resistance, which basically means your cells have trouble properly using the insulin you produce. Filled with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, vegetables help with blood glucose control and are an important part of metabolic processes. Fiber is an indigestible portion of food and for that exact reason, when enough is digested, it slows the rise in blood sugars.

One way I love to promote more veggies and a healthy protein option earlier in the day is with Sunwarrior protein powder. My favorite flavor is Sunwarrior Chocolate protein blend. I recommend mixing spinach, kale, ½ cup pumpkin (canned if fresh is not available), one tablespoon Bob’s Redmill flaxseed meal, 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds, one teaspoon cocoa powder, cinnamon to taste, and of course the magic ingredient, chocolate Sunwarrior protein blend.  This can be made into a shake, or you can nix the spinach and kale and just add ¼ avocado and hand stir into a yummy, delicious chocolate pumpkin pudding.

At my last diabetes class, five participants who tried the recipe shake at home were not only raving that it tasted great, but it kept them full until lunch. They found their blood glucose meals were not only better after the shake but later in the day before lunch. I call it my Green Machine Supershake.

So it’s my personal belief that diabetes can be an opportunity that forces you to make healthier choices and who knows, you may end up healthier than your neighbor without diabetes.


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