As the incidence of diabetes and the popularity of a vegan diet increases, more people are asking the question, "Can a diabetic become vegan?"
What Is a Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet excludes all animal products including meat, eggs, and dairy products such as milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese. In addition to this, many very strict vegans do not consume honey. Since most vegans choose an animal product free lifestyle, they tend to avoid clothing and all other products that are of animal origin as well.
While at first it may seem like a vegan diet is very limited, there are many food options for vegans including the following:
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and other legumes
Can a Diabetic Become Vegan?
Everyone requires a well balanced diet that includes protein, carbohydrates and fats. The difference for diabetics is that they need to monitor their carbohydrate intake in order to keep their blood sugar levels under control. A diabetic who follows a well-balanced vegan diet that follows the vegan food pyramid cannot only survive, they can thrive.
Vegan Diets Can Benefit Diabetics
A healthy well-balanced vegan diet that limits fats and refined sugars may actually help to improve insulin resistance for diabetics.
Lower Intakes of Saturated Fat
The majority of saturated fat in the American diet comes from animal sources such as meats, eggs, and dairy products. Since vegan diets exclude foods derived from animal sources, vegans consume much lower amounts of saturated fats than people who consume animal products. A decrease in saturated fat intake may help to increase the secretion of insulin, and decrease insulin sensitivity in diabetics.
Higher Intakes of Fiber
Fiber comes from plant foods, which means that animal based foods contain no fiber. The American Diabetes Association suggests that most Americans need to consume approximately 25-30 grams of fiber each day. However, the average American diet includes less than half the recommended amount of fiber. Fiber helps to maintain intestinal health, and helps you to stay regular.
A meal that contains an ample amount of fiber will also help you to feel full and satisfied longer than a high-fat meal that contains little or no fiber. Fiber also helps to improve blood glucose response, which is especially beneficial for diabetics working to control their blood sugar.
Higher Intakes of Magnesium
Low intakes of the mineral magnesium may contribute to insulin resistance. For this reason, it is important for diabetics to consume plenty of magnesium-rich foods. A plant-based diet tends to include much higher intakes of magnesium than the typical animal-based diet. Foods that contain magnesium include:
- Brown rice
- Collard greens
- Dried fruit
- Sweet corn
- Whole grains
Being Overweight Increases Risk of Diabetes
Being overweight is the single most important risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Roughly 80 percent of individuals with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Diabetes risk is nearly doubled for those who are moderately overweight and tripled for individuals who are truly obese.
A Vegan Diet Encourages Weight loss
A vegan diet that limits junk foods and includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, may encourage weight loss. Since being overweight is the most important risk factor for developing diabetes, consuming a healthy diet that leads to weight loss may help to control diabetes.
So, the answer to the question, "Can a diabetic become vegan?", is a resounding yes! Not only is it possible for a diabetic to follow a vegan diet, but a vegan diet may actually help to control blood glucose levels and improve insulin resistance.
It is very important for all diabetics to consult with a Registered Dietitian to come up with a diet plan that will meet all of their nutritional needs while also keeping their blood sugar under control.