Alter your favorite recipes. Many meat dishes can be made into vegetarian dishes by using a meat substitute such as wheat gluten (seitan) or soy-based “crumbles” or “strips” in place of the meat. (Both of these products are sold in the refrigerated or freezer sections of the grocery store.) Dry texturized vegetable protein (TVP), made from soy flour, can also be used to replace ground meat in dishes such as lasagna, stews, sloppy joes, stroganoff, chili, tacos, and burritos. Firm, marinated tofu can be substituted for chicken in stir-fry dishes.
Seek out vegetarian recipes. Buy or borrow a vegetarian cookbook, or visit Web sites dedicated to vegetarian or vegan eating for recipes developed specifically for vegetarian ingredients. (See “Resources.”)
Try vegetarian convenience foods. When you don’t have time to cook, try the various types of convenience foods sold in most grocers’ freezers or refrigerator cases: veggie burgers; “chicken” patties; soy hotdogs; precooked, flavored tofu or tempeh; and vegetarian frozen entrées such as corn and bean enchiladas, lentil curry, and vegetarian pad Thai. Look in the refrigerated section for prepared hummus, baba ganoush, soy cheese, soy milk, and soy yogurt.
Learn to like beans. Beans are an inexpensive source of protein, and when purchased canned or frozen, they’re fast and easy to prepare. Look for edamame (green soybeans) and black-eyed peas in the freezer. Look for black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and pinto beans in the canned section, or, if you have time, buy dried beans and cook them yourself.
Try new grains. Grains are a natural partner to beans, providing complementary flavors, textures, and nutrients. Some whole grains take much longer to cook than refined grains, but not all: Whole-grain pasta, for example, cooks in about the same amount of time as regular pasta. Kasha, quinoa, and old-fashioned rolled oats can be ready in about 15 minutes. Pearled barley, amaranth, bulgur, and millet cook (or soak, in the case of bulgur) in about 30 minutes. Longer-cooking grains can also be cooked in large portions and stored in the refrigerator for at least several days for quick meal preparation.
Eat your vegetables. Starting a vegetarian diet is a great time to try new vegetables or to eat more of your favorites. Dark-green and dark-orange vegetables are particularly high in nutrients, so include those regularly in your meals.
Continue reading labels. When you buy packaged foods, check the Nutrition Facts panel on the label. Canned beans and vegetables may be high in sodium, and convenience foods such as meat substitutes and veggie burgers may be high in fat and/or sodium and low in fiber. Make good nutrition your priority.
Eat out in ethnic restaurants. Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, and Indian restaurants are likely to have vegetarian items on their menus, and even many American-style restaurants serve veggie burgers or other vegetarian entrées these days. If you’re not sure whether a restaurant has — or is willing to make — what you need, call ahead and ask.
Eating for good health
Following an individualized meal plan is an important part of diabetes management because eating the right foods in the right amounts can help you keep your blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible, achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a healthy range. All of these parts working together can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other diabetes-related complications.
Because a vegetarian meal plan has been shown to be helpful in achieving these goals, vegetarianism may be another tool to consider as you travel the road toward optimal diabetes health.