Photo: Tofu, Spinach and Tomato Salad

by Sabra Rebo, R.D. Down to Earth Community Outreach Team Leader

Living in Hawaii, many of us in some way have either seen or heard about the complications associated with diabetes. With our high diabetes rates, it’s important to know that certain foods can make a major impact on treating or preventing this disease. There is a lot of information available about different meal plans to manage type 2 diabetes. You may be wondering how a plant-based diet fits into meal planning? The great news is a well-planned vegetarian diet can be a healthy choice for people with type 2 diabetes. Research shows that a vegetarian diet can help manage blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes1. Additionally, a vegetarian diet can help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes2.

Plant-based diets are naturally higher in fiber and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol when compared to a traditional American diet. The high fiber in this diet may help you feel full for a longer period of time after eating and help manage blood glucose levels3.

Here are a few tips for a plant-based diet and diabetes:

  • Keep portions under control. It is always important to be aware of portion sizes. Even healthy foods can cause weight gain if you take in extra calories. Some plant based-foods like whole grains, fruit, and beans are high in carbohydrates. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but if you eat more than your meal plan allows, your blood glucose may become elevated. To help manage portion sizes pay attention to your hunger cues and eat mindfully.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. For people with diabetes, hydration is important! Higher than normal blood glucose levels can deplete fluids. To get rid of the glucose, the kidneys will try to pass it out in the urine, which takes water. The higher your blood glucose, the more fluids you should drink. This explains why excessive thirst is one of the main symptoms of diabetes.
    Water is the healthiest choice for hydration. But water doesn’t have to be boring; try adding fresh sliced lemons, limes, and oranges if you like citrus. Pineapple, ginger, and mint is one of my personal favorite combinations. Try adding your favorite fruits and herbs to water. Let the water infuse for up to 4 hours. Add lots of ice and you have a refreshing, never-boring beverage. Infused water can keep in the refrigerator up to two days.
  • Plant foods have plenty of protein! It is easy to get focused on counting carbohydrates but make sure to include a good source of protein with every meal. Choose options like tofu, beans, lentils, and meat substitutes. A ½ cup serving of beans has 15 grams of carbohydrate, which counts as 1 serving of carbohydrate4.
  • Pick whole grains. Whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals5. They help us feel full longer and can help manage blood glucose levels6. Because whole grains are a source of carbohydrate be mindful of serving sizes. A 1/3 cup serving of brown rice contains 15 grams of carbohydrates7. To identify whole grain products, first look at the package. Look for the 100% whole grain stamp on the front of the package. You can also look for keywords such as “100% Whole Wheat”. Be cautious of products that say “multigrain” and don’t give additional information. They may only contain small amounts of whole grains.
  • Fabulous fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients. Vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients are found in both fruits and vegetables. Fruit is also a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth! One small piece of fresh fruit (4 oz) or half of a papaya is about 15 grams of carbohydrate8.
  • Can-do calcium! Yogurt, milk, and some non-dairy milks are good sources of calcium and protein in the vegetarian diet. 2/3 cup of yogurt or 1 cup or milk or unsweetened soy milk contain 15 grams of carbohydrate9.

A well-planned plant-based diet can be a healthy way to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes10. Be sure to visit with your doctor and discuss any dietary changes that you are planning to make.
 

Footnotes: 
  1. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009. 1273. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(03)00294-3/abstract. 14 August 2016.
  2. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009. 1273. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(03)00294-3/abstract. 14 August 2016.
  3. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009. 1273. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(03)00294-3/abstract. 14 August 2016.
  4. Carbohydrate Counting. American Diabetes Association. https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/understanding-carbs/carb-counting 14 August 2016.
  5. Whole Grains: An Important Source of Essential Nutrients. Oldways Whole Grain Council. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/what-are-health-benefits.... 14 August 2016.
  6. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009. 1273. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(03)00294-3/abstract. 14 August 2016.
  7. Carbohydrate Counting. American Diabetes Association. https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/understanding-carbs/carb-counting. 14 August 2016.
  8. Carbohydrate Counting. American Diabetes Association. https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/understanding-carbs/carb-counting. 14 August 2016.
  9. Carbohydrate Counting. American Diabetes Association. https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/understanding-carbs/carb-counting. 14 August 2016.
  10. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009. 1273. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(03)00294-3/abstract. 14 August 2016.