A vegan diet includes only grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit. Lacto-ovo vegetarians often add eggs, milk or milk products. Semi-vegetarians may include some animal products such as fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products.
Are vegetarian diets healthy?
As with any style of eating, vegetarians are healthiest when the diet is balanced, varied and nutritionally adequate. Simply being vegetarian doesn’t automatically mean a diet is healthy. If food choices are high in fat and low in fibre and nutrients, any meal plan can be bad for you. With careful planning, a vegetarian diet provides all the nutrients needed for good health and may lower the risk of certain chronic diseases.
Heart disease and stroke – Well-planned vegetarian meals are low in saturated fat and high in fibre - two important parts of a heart-healthy diet. Vegetarian eating may protect people from heart disease by lowering blood pressure and blood cholesterol.
Obesity – Plant based foods are high in fibre. Fibre helps to create a feeling of fullness and may help to pre vent overeating. Many high-fibre foods are also naturally lower in calories and fat.
Cancer – A diet rich in plant foods may lower the risk of certain types of cancer. The evidence is strongest in preventing prostate and colon cancer.
Type 2 diabetes – Those who follow a vegetarian diet are more likely to be at a healthy weight, lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Fibre-rich vegetarian meals can help control blood glucose levels by slowing the absorption of carbohydrate.
Semi-vegetarians and vegetarians who include milk products and eggs can follow Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating when planning meals and snacks. Choose a variety of foods from the four food groups every day. This helps ensure the diet contains enough protein, vitamins and minerals needed for good health. Emphasize high-fibre, lower-fat choices.
If you follow a vegan diet which excludes all animal products, you must plan your diet carefully. Be sure to get enough protein, calcium, iron and vitamin D as well as a reliable source of vitamin B12. The table here can help you choose plant sources of these nutrients.
Can I eat vegetarian if I have diabetes?
Definitely! People with diabetes should follow the same diet recommended for the general population in Canada’s Guidelines for Healthy Eating. These guidelines suggest eating a variety of foods from all four food groups and choosing whole grain products, fruits and vegetables more often. They also encourage making lower-fat, higher-fibre choices when planning meals and snacks. Eating vegetarian simply means including more plant foods as the focus of the meal. Plant foods are rich in nutrients, low in fat and can be an excellent source of fibre. They are an important part of a healthy diet for someone with diabetes.
Remember, plant foods are a major source of carbohydrate. Since carbohydrate turns into glucose, a vegetarian diet that has more carbohydrate may affect blood glucose levels. Those with diabetes, particularly if taking insulin, must be aware of the amount of carbohydrate they eat at meals. With type 2 diabetes, carbohydrate intake needs to be spread throughout the day. Regular blood glucose monitoring is always important, but even more so when changes to your nutritional intake are made. Talk to your dietitian or diabetes educator if you have questions about how to include more vegetarian foods in your diet.
Give it a try!
For many Canadians, grains, legumes and vegetables are thought of as side dishes in a traditional meal. Eating vegetarian simply encourages people to place these foods more prominently on the menu. Whether you are semi-vegetarian or vegan, an abundant intake of plant foods is important to eating well.