Vegetarian and Low-Carb Diets for Diabetes

Patient Expert
Medically Reviewed

About a month ago I became a vegetarian. But I am staying with the very low-carb diet that I began in 2007. It makes it possible for me to manage my blood sugar levels and my weight. My motivation for further restricting the variety of foods that I eat was an ethical consideration.

Different people become vegetarians for various reasons. Some people choose to avoid meat, poultry, fish, and seafood for their own health and others for religious, ethical, and environmental concerns.

For me the issue is that I don't want to be responsible for harming sentient beings as much as I can avoid it while still following a healthy diet. Several years ago I resolved all the questions about the health of a vegetarian diet for the management of my diabetes with one exception.

Except by eating fatty fish, I didn't know how to get a high enough level of the heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. An international panel of experts in cardiovascular disease, infant nutrition, and mental health that the National Institutes of Health convened in 1999 concluded that adults need a minimum of 650 mg of combined DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and that at least 220 mg be in the form of DHA and at least another 220mg be in the form of EPA.

Getting enough of these two omega 3 fats was easy when I ate salmon and sardines. People can also easily get what they need from taking fish or krill oil capsules. And vegetarian sources of DHA that come directly from the algae where fish get it have been available for a long time.

But no EPA from a vegetarian source was available in March 2013 when I researched this question for my article here on "Omega-3 for Vegetarians with Diabetes." At that time a spokesperson for one of the companies that sells a vegetarian source of DHA told me that "A vegetarian source of DHA/EPA oil just very recently became available."

Now, some companies have just begun to offer capsules that contain both DHA and EPA from a vegetarian source. Most of them, however, don't have enough EPA compared to their level of DHA. I did, however, find a new source that meets this requirement.

My other concern was the same one that I had in 2007 when I began to follow a very low-carb diet: whether I would get enough variety to stay the course. Actually, all that I had to eliminate from my diet at this juncture was the salmon and sardines. That turned out to be surprisingly easy.