This country still hasn’t recognized the importance of eating low-carb, especially for diabetes management, but also for reducing weight. But October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, and some people with diabetes, including the more than 3,700 members of The Vegetarian Low Carb Diabetic Healthy Diet Society, follow both.
You can manage your diabetes on both a vegetarian and low-carb diet and get the benefits of both. These diets have many advocates and are healthful and satisfying. But I doubt if anyone would say that it’s easy to be a vegetarian and a low-carber at the same time.
About nine years ago, I started to eat only food low in carbohydrates that don’t have a high glycemic index. I knew that this was the only proven way to bring my blood glucose level down where I wanted it to be without using drugs or supplements. My most recent A1C test showed that my level is 5.1 percent, well within the range considered normal.
While continuing to eat this way, about three years ago I added the further restriction of eating no meat, fish, or seafood. This was a substantial shift in what I was eating, and I made it mainly because I don’t want to be intentionally responsible for the death of animals or other sentient beings. Only later did I begin to realize its health benefits.
Hard at first
Like many people, I found at first that going low-carb wasn’t easy. Avoiding starchy food, like bread and other wheat products, was almost as hard as kicking my addiction to tobacco years earlier. But eventually, my cravings for these foods stopped.
With that personal history, I was surprised that when I stopped eating meat, fish, and seafood, I didn’t miss them. I found good tasting substitutes, including “Beyond Burger,” which tastes better than beef and was first introduced in my hometown and is now rolling out nationwide.
Recently, I have studied the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.
A vegetarian diet can help protect you from the two diseases that are by far the leading causes of death here in the U.S. Heart disease is number one, and cancer isn’t far behind, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some of the studies in the professional literature during the past few years provide powerful evidence for the benefits of a vegetarian diet in helping to prevent these diseases:
One-third of those in a study of more than 44,000 people in England and Scotland who were vegetarians had a 32 percent lower risk of being hospitalized with, or die from, a heart attack than meat eaters. Vegetarians had lower non-HDL cholesterol and blood pressure, possibly reducing their risk of heart disease. They also had lower body mass index levels.
For one common cancer the evidence is also strong supporting a vegetarian diet. The study included more than 77,000 people in North America who are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which recommends a vegetarian diet. Slightly more than half of the people in the study followed one of these vegetarian diets: vegan, eight percent; lacto-ovo vegetarian, 29 percent; pesco-vegetarian, 10 percent; and semi-vegetarian, six percent.
The study concluded that vegetarians had a 22 percent lower risk of all colorectal cancers. This included a 19 percent lower risk of colon cancer and a 29 percent risk of rectal cancer. “Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.
One more study is important to people with diabetes, “Vegetarian Diets and Blood Pressure." High blood pressure is part of the metabolic syndrome, the five risk factors for diabetes as well as for heart disease and stroke.
This 2014 meta-analysis reviewed 39 studies and found that people following a vegetarian diet had lower systolic blood pressure levels. Their reductions were similar to what people achieve when they follow the standard lifestyle recommendations — eating a low-sodium diet and losing about 10 pounds.
As I learned more about the benefits of combining vegetarian and low-carb diets, I explored food options. Many vegetables have little starch and sugar.
My breakfast remains a protein shake, and my lunch is almost always a big salad. But my dinners give me satisfying variety.
Sometimes dinner is a bowl of plain, unsweetened, whole milk Greek yogurt, maybe with a few wild blueberries and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds. A thick soup, like this green one, is delicious. Recently I have started to eat more cauliflower rice. Other dinners may be baked portobello mushrooms, a steamed artichoke, and shirataki noodles.
Explore the food options that we have in America now. You’ll find that instead of being limiting, a combined vegetarian and low-carb diet is rich in choices.
David Mendosa is a journalist who learned in 1994 that he has Type 2 diabetes, which he now writes about exclusively. He has written thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, current A1C level of 5.1, and BMI of 19.8 keeps his diabetes in remission without any drugs.