Jewels Doskicz, RN, is a freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. She and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.

The mere thought of a vegetarian diet may be difficult to digest (I see some head nods here). And you may be wondering if it’s even a remote possibility to get the quality protein content you need.

The good news is – there’s always room for vegetables, and it is possible to adopt a well-rounded and healthful diet from plant-based vegetarian sources – even with diabetes.

Meat, chicken, pork and fish have always been dietary staples, but they can become heavy hitters in the diet when minimizing carbohydrate loads. And non-vegetarian protein sources are not without their own set of impacts.

Whatever your drive to explore vegetarianism is, be it your current or future health, diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure, or weight - changes in diet stick when you are stoked about the reasoning behind it.

Do I have to eat meat because I have diabetes?

Absolutely not.

Meat may be an uncomfortable part of your diet, especially if you have gastroparesis; meat is not easily digestible. Paleo may be king in the current diet world, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all mentality.

If you eat meat and enjoy it, your diet supports your health, and you are happy with your choices, by all means carry on.

If you are open to change, you may appreciate the benefits found in a meatless diet or perhaps decreasing the amount of meat you currently eat. Your health care provider can give you the data you may need to seal the deal. Checking blood pressure, hemoglobin A1C, weight, cholesterol, and body mass index can be great measures to follow your progress.

I was raised by meat eaters and became a vegetarian as a young adult 27 years ago. I have been living with type 1 diabetes for nearly as long, and I’m certain that my diet has supported my health over all of these years.

Why go vegetarian?

“Common practices in our modern, industrial food system are creating significant global health and environmental problems. In the United States, the four leading causes of death—and largest sources of healthcare expenditure—are directly linked to food: stroke, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease,” according to Health Care Without Harm.

Our health, the environment, and ethical issues should shape our food choices.

Meatless Monday

Cooking and adopting a vegetarian lifestyle does take some forward thinking.

There are no solid rules. Try ‘Meatless Monday’ on for size; having one dinner a week that’s vegetarian is a great place to start.

Mixing it up works well for everyone. With so many varieties of vegetarians: lacto-ovo, pescatarians or vegans for instance, you set the ground rules for yourself. If you like eggs or fish or meat a few times a week – that’s your choice!

How-to

Be open to change.

Throw out the mindset “I’ll never be a vegetarian – meat is my primary sustenance.” That line of thought is too black and white. And, do you really eat meat with every meal anyhow?

“If you are thinking about becoming a vegetarian, start with small changes,” Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDE, CDN, and 2015 AADE Diabetes Educator of the Year said.

  1. Start by reducing your consumption of overly processed foods. (Don’t be a junk food vegetarian – not all vegetarian foods are healthy.)
  2. Add more fresh vegetables into your current meal plan.
  3. Try eating more raw foods
  4. Reach out to a registered dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator for more advice on how to modify your meal plan for better health.

“Patients often share that they have been told plant-based diets may complicate their health and diabetes self-care management. I believe this is based on outdated thinking and misperceptions around limited knowledge of plant based meal plans,” Weiner shared.

Vegetarian sources of protein

“Recipes that include protein and fiber-rich low-carb vegetables can help people with diabetes who want to adopt a more plant-based diet reach their goals,” states Weiner.

Our individual lifestyles and preferences shouldn’t be overlooked. Beans, nuts (nut butters), tofu (soy), seitan (wheat gluten), tempeh, and quinoa are a few places to start.

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