Vegetarianism and Diabetes: Do the Two Mix? (Part 2)
By Amy Campbell | October 30, 2006 10:46 am
Last week, we learned about vegetarianism and many of the health benefits of following a vegetarian diet. If you’re interested in either becoming a vegetarian or just being a “part-time” vegetarian, there are a few important points to consider.
Meet with a dietitian. Chances are, at some point along your journey of having diabetes you’ve seen a dietitian. Maybe it was a long time ago, so if you don’t currently have a dietitian as part of your health-care team, start looking. Your physician may be able to refer you to someone, or you can always find one in your area by going to the American Dietetic Association’s Web site, www.eatright.org. Working with a dietitian is important for two reasons: It will ensure that your transition to vegetarianism is a smooth one (meaning that you’re going about it the right way), and it will help you integrate vegetarian eating with your diabetes treatment plan.
Take a gradual approach. You know from having diabetes how challenging it can be to make many changes at one time. The same applies to becoming a vegetarian. Giving up meat, chicken, fish, and possibly eggs all of a sudden can be a shock to the system—especially if you’re not sure what else you’ll eat!
Take a close look at what you’re eating now. You’re probably already eating some vegetarian meals, such as vegetable soup, pasta with marinara sauce, or black beans and rice. Write up a menu for a couple of weeks and think about how you’ll replace your meat-based meals with plant-based meals.
Read, read, read. Invest in a good book to help you learn about vegetarian diets. Being vegetarian is not just about what you’ll eat for dinner. You’ll need to bone up on nutrition and think about how you’ll change your lifestyle. A good resource is Being Vegetarian for Dummies by Suzanne Havala, who is a registered dietitian (and has been a vegetarian for many years).
Scout out recipes. Take a trip to the local bookstore and browse the cookbook section, looking for vegetarian cookbooks. Or search the Internet for vegetarian recipes (check out www.vegweb.com). You’ll find more than enough. Print out recipes and start keeping a notebook or recipe box with the ones that appeal to you.
Plan what you’ll eat away from home. If you have a cafeteria at work, think about your options. But if your lunch consists of a sandwich from the local deli every day, you may need to consider bringing lunch from home. Vegetable soups, vegetarian chili, hummus, vegetarian burgers, and even low-fat cheese sandwiches are good choices.
Get your family on board. If you have family at home, talk to them ahead of time about vegetarianism and why you’re “converting.” Hopefully, they’ll be rooting for you, but keep in mind that they may not be ready to give up meat, chicken, and fish. Figure out a plan of action. If your goal is to eat more plant-based meals but not necessarily become a full-fledged vegetarian, your family is more likely to be willing to compromise. But if you’re going to become a vegan, be prepared to face some uphill battles.
Finally, realize that while you may have no intention of becoming a vegetarian, you can still enjoy the multitude of plant-based meals as part of your eating plan. Vegetarian meals are tasty, nutritious, and can add variety to anyone’s eating routine. You’ll save money on your grocery bill, too.
Next week, we’ll conclude our three-part series on vegetarianism by taking a look at how vegetarian diets can affect diabetes control, as well as some potential nutrition consequences of vegetarian eating.
Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin.
Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.
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