Diets for diabetic and pre-diabetic people can vary. Like most conditions, treatment methods and approaches to offsetting symptoms aren’t one-size-fits-all and depend on the individual. Given all the complicated details (like keeping an eye on blood glucose levels and keeping a healthy weight), it is often best to get help from a professional.
Thus, we strongly suggest contacting a nutritionist specializing in helping clients manage diabetes.
Even with the help of a trained professional, you won't be able to keep your diabetes under control unless you make the effort to live as healthily as possible. But when you have diabetes, you must practice caution with any dietary approaches. Something might sound great at first, but if you have a health problem, it could make things worse for you.
For example, if you have diabetes, the best way to eat will depend on your personality, your current health, and your ability to stick to the diet.
Below, we’ll discuss if one potential nutritional approach—a plant-based diet—is safe for people with diabetes.
The Benefits Of Finding The Best Possible Diet For Diabetes
Finding the best possible diet to control, manage, or prevent diabetes can help you regain control of your life and stop your condition from becoming an unbearable burden.
More importantly, the right diet for diabetes can help reduce symptoms and bring blood sugar levels back to normal.
There are plenty of options for people like you looking for lifestyle and dietary solutions to help with diabetes symptoms. Also, knowing valuable information, like the best snacks for weight loss, could help with your symptoms. Although, given the specifics of diabetes, you must choose snacks that won’t put you further at risk of adverse outcomes.
One dietary approach gaining steam throughout North America is a plant-based diet. When done right, this "vegetables-first" approach to nutrition can be very good for everyone, including people with diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Take the Top Nutrition Coaching Quiz to find the best nutritionist for you.
12 Reasons Diabetics Should Try A Plant-Based Diet
You might have reservations about following a plant-based diet as a person with diabetes or pre-diabetes, which is understandable.
There are a lot of things to worry about when you follow any diet, from whether it's sustainable and affordable to whether you're getting enough nutrients. Learn why a plant-based diet might be good for someone with your condition and also look at some of its possible problems.
Plant-Based Diets Fit In With Diabetic Dietary Guidelines
- Vegan and other plant-based diets are low in saturated fats
- They’re also higher in fiber, veggies, and fruits
- These diets also tend to be rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, and other protective substances
- Going vegan, vegetarian, or generally plant-based can be relatively inexpensive
- Plant-based diets can be low in proteins and essential/healthy fats
- Such a diet can be challenging to maintain if you enjoy eating animal products
The Bottom Line: Vegan and other plant-based diets are incredibly healthy dietary options for people with diabetes or prediabetes. They contain many nutritional components that help manage symptoms and keep you at a healthy weight and blood sugar level. However, this approach may lack enough protein and can be too restrictive for some who prefer meat, poultry, and fish. At the same time, the affordability of going plant-based makes this approach more sustainable.
Plants Can Provide All The Protein You Need
- Many plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian alternatives offer enough protein to keep you well-nourished
- Examples of protein-rich plant-based food include seeds, nuts, and vegan butter that contains peanuts, cashew, almond, Brazil nuts, tahini, etc.
- Beans and pulses (e.g., chickpeas, lentils, and butterbeans), veggie milk (e.g., almond and soya), and quinoa-based products are all protein-rich
- Plant-based sources of protein often contain more carbs than meat-based protein
- Therefore, you’ll need to prioritize low-glycemic-index options and search for fiber-rich food
The Bottom Line: Many vegan and plant-based approaches can provide enough protein, but they often come high in carbs. When looking for high-protein plant-based foods, you need to pay attention to the glycemic index and the amount of fiber they have.
Plant-Based Diets Are Packed With Fiber
- Plant-based diets are absolutely brimming with fiber (as long as you’re eating whole foods)
- High-fiber diets are ideal for people with diabetes and pre-diabetes since fiber helps regulate blood sugar. Since the body can’t absorb and break down fiber, your blood sugar won’t spike after you eat it, unlike other carbs
- Eating plant-based diets doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting enough fiber Unhealthy plant-based diets (containing fruit juices, refined grains, processed bread, etc.) won’t pack enough fiber
- Consuming too much fiber can lead to unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms
The Bottom Line: Plant-based diets are typically chock full of fiber that will help regulate your blood sugar—a boon to anyone with diabetes or prediabetes. Still, not all plant-based diets are created equal; some can work against your diabetes management and prevention efforts.
There Are Multiple Plant-Based Alternatives For B12
- Many plant-based food items are fortified with vitamin B12, including yogurts, milk, and breakfast cereals
- Vitamin B12–crucial to healthy blood and a vital nervous system–is found to aid patients with diabetes in symptom improvements
- B12 is only found naturally in animal-based products – not in plant-based foods
The Bottom Line: Your body needs vitamin B12–especially when dealing with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Some might fear that eliminating meat from your diet will leave you at risk of deficiency since B12 occurs naturally in animal products. However, plant-based options fortified with B12 are readily available. While these versions of the vitamin are synthetic, it’s believed by many experts that humans absorb the synthetic version of B12 better than its naturally occurring counterpart.
Boost Calcium Intake
- Many plant-based milk and yogurt options–fortified with calcium–are available for vegans, vegetarians, and those seeking non-meat alternatives
- You can also find calcium in oranges, almonds, kale, chickpeas, red kidney beans, etc.
- Keeping your calcium levels regulated can help manage and prevent diabetes symptoms
- Too much calcium can cause gas, bloating, and constipation, primarily when taken in supplemental form
- Excess calcium intake has been linked to heart problems, which could adversely impact your diabetes symptoms
The Bottom Line: In appropriate amounts, calcium is a crucial component of most people’s nutritional regimen. Most relevant to this article, calcium has shown benefits to those dealing with diabetes. When taking calcium in supplement form, there may be complications of bloating and constipation. However, enough plant-based sources of calcium exist to ensure you don’t rely too heavily on supplements.
You Can Get Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids From Plants
- In a plant-based diet, you can get your omega-3 fatty acids from rapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and soya-based options (e.g., tofu and soya milk)
- Omega-3 is proven to aid in heart health, blood sugar regulation, and maintaining healthy body weight, all crucial components in combatting and controlling diabetes
- No plant-based sources match the quantity and quality of omega-3 you’ll receive by eating oily fish
- You may need to combine a diet rich in plant-based omega-3 with additional supplements
The Bottom Line: You can better manage your diabetes symptoms by eating plant-based omega-3-rich foods (and supplementing when necessary). Provided you supplement your omega-3, be sure to purchase from trustworthy brands and discuss options with your physician or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Don’t Be Afraid Of A Lack Of Iron In A Plant-Based Diet
- Plant-based foods such as breakfast cereals, bread, nuts, pulses, brands, dried fruit, and dark green vegetables can contain iron
- Research suggests that anemia linked to an iron deficiency can adversely impact your blood sugar levels, so it’s crucial to consume the appropriate amount
- Eating higher quantities of veggies and fruits means you’re getting more vitamin C, which helps with iron absorption
- Too much iron can adversely impact type 2 diabetes symptoms due to increases in oxidative stress
- Besides diabetes symptoms, too much iron can be detrimental for your overall health (e.g., constipation and abdominal pain)
The Bottom Line: Plant-based diets can be rich in iron if you eat the right foods. But it's best to talk to a doctor or nurse about the right amount of iron for people with diabetes.
Plant-Based Diets Are High In Selenium
- Brazil nuts are a source of selenium for people on plant-based diets
- Selenium is crucial for enzymes, which speed up our body’s many vital reactions
- Research indicates selenium aids in cardiovascular health and in type 2 diabetes prevention
- Consuming too much selenium has various adverse side effects
- While plant-based foods containing selenium are available, it’s not that common. Thus, supplementing might be necessary.
The Bottom Line: Selenium is an essential nutrient and a net positive for overall health (in the correct amounts). Provided you’re following a plant-based diet, speak with a doctor or nutritionist near you about incorporating the appropriate supplements.
Plant-Based Diets Contain Low Glycemic Index Foods
- Plant-based foods like beans, minimally-processed grains, pasta, fruits, and vegetables are low on the glycemic index (55 and lower)
- Low glycemic index foods can aid in weight loss and blood sugar regulation, significantly improving diabetes symptoms and risk prevention
- There are limited numbers of low glycemic index foods, and they won’t contain all the nutrients you need for a balanced diet
- Many low glycemic options (e.g., bran cereal) can contain too many carbs for the body to handle comfortably
The Bottom Line: A plant-based diet offers enough low glycemic index options to regulate your blood sugar and body weight, which can help with your diabetes. Ensure you’re not relying solely on these foods to make up your diet, and be mindful of your carb intake with low glycemic meals.
Save Money By Cutting Out Meat
- Healthcare can get expensive, especially when you need treatments that aren’t covered by insurance. Cutting out the meat can save you lots of money, ensuring you have something extra stored away if you need to pay for additional help with your diabetes.
- Improving your quality of life by saving money (through cutting out meat) can reduce stress, potentially helping control your diabetes symptoms.
- You might enjoy meat and are only considering this change to boost your health. As such, it might not be a sustainable change, regardless of the potential financial gains you can make.
The Bottom Line: Cutting out meat means eliminating a massive expense on your grocery bill. Having more money in your wallet can make you less stressed, which can (to some extent) help you manage your diabetes. But these benefits might not be attractive enough for someone who enjoys meat but is considering the change to improve their health.
Help The Environment By Going Plant-Based
- Sadly, the meat industry is responsible for a vast portion of the greenhouse gases produced globally
- A plant-based diet can help with your diabetes symptoms while contributing to a better environment. You’ll end up taking care of yourself and the world surrounding you.
- While many plant-based options exist, it can be hard to resist animal products after eating and enjoying them your entire life.
The Bottom Line: Going plant-based is beneficial for your diabetes and a boon to the environment. That said, you’re only human. If you enjoy eating beef, poultry, and fish, improved health and a better environment won’t suddenly quell your cravings. Often, it’s best to find a happy middle ground.
Plant-Based Diets Don’t Have To Be Rigid
- Going plant-based doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying beef, poultry, fish, and other animal products altogether.
- Plant-based diets are a personal choice. It simply means prioritizing plant-based foods and alternatives instead of eating meat constantly. You can fit animal products into your diet in moderation–there’s no rule saying you can’t.
- There’s a fine line between moderation and giving up on your plant-based diet altogether.
- Keeping meat in your diet in small amounts could increase your cravings. This could lead to eating more animal products, defeating the purpose of your switch to plant-based foods.
The Bottom Line: There is no rule that says you can't enjoy the occasional animal product like dairy if your diet is mostly plant-based—unless you’re vegan.
How Top Nutrition Coaching Can Help Diabetics
The experts on our team of diabetic nutritionists at Top Nutrition Coaching are some of the best in the country. They’re accredited by top institutions and have extensive experience in dietetics. Many nutritionists in our network have a Master's degree and—at a minimum—have their Bachelor of Science from a reputable university.
Take the Top Nutrition Coaching Quiz to find the best nutritionist for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some questions often asked about whether plant-based diets are ideal for those living with diabetes:
Will a plant-based diet bring down my blood sugar levels?
Most research shows that a vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diet can improve insulin sensitivity and help keep blood sugars in check.
What plant-based foods do you suggest for people with diabetes?
Most experts suggest legumes, nuts, whole grains, veggies, and fruits as the ideal plant-based food options for people with diabetes.
What plant-based foods should I avoid if I have diabetes?
The worst foods for people struggling with diabetes are sweetened beverages, refined grains, and fruit juices.
Can a plant-based diet reverse my diabetes?
There’s no diabetes diet that can reverse a chronic illness.