How to Cook for a Vegetarian Diabetic

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Vegetarian diets have been shown to prevent and manage diabetes.  A vegetarian with diabetes may be extra health conscious because of the diabetes or other health issues such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.  Cooking for a vegetarian who has diabetes may be an especially great challenge because of the protein, sugar and other food restrictions that may be due to health problems.


Vegetarian and Diabetic Diets

A person who has diabetes either does not produce enough insulin or has cells that do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This means that sugar levels need to be monitored, often with diet, to make sure they stay as close to normal as possible. Recommended foods for diabetics include healthy carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low fat dairy), fiber rich foods and “good” fats (avocados, almonds, pecans, olive oil). Always check with your doctor before changing your diet in order to ensure you can manage your overall health.

There are three basic types of vegetarians. Lacto-ovo Vegetarians do not eat any animal flesh but they often eat products containing dairy and egg. Lacto Vegetarians do not eat animal flesh or eggs but do consume dairy products. Vegans do not eat any animal flesh, eggs or dairy products. Before you begin making a menu make sure you know exactly what a person can or cannot eat.

Read Labels Carefully

Many products marketed toward diabetics contain animal by products. A can of soup may be low sugar and have an American Diabetes Association label but still have chicken broth. A great vegetarian product may taste good because of its high sugar content. For example, vegan jello may be great, but it may still has processed sugar. Opt to buy sewed based gelatin and add 100% juice or a reduced sugar juice blend. Again, always read the labels of every package to ensure a low sugar as well as no animal byproducts. Be wary of foods high in fat, cholesterol, sodium and trans fat (partially hydrogenated soybean oil).

Get Creative

Eating foods that haven’t been processed are best when cooking for a diabetic vegetarian. Learn to modify recipes to meet any specific dietary needs. If a recipe calls for a simple carbohydrate or meat substitute it. Fruits and vegetables are an obvious good choice but be wary of too much sugar in fruit or starchy vegetables like corn or squash. Tofu, tempeh, beans and other legumes are some of the best ways to get protein in. When cooking with good carbohydrates use the exchange system to ensure sugars won’t spike. People with diabetes may still crave candy or other sweets that they ate earlier in live. Many companies like See’s, Hershey’s, and Russell Stover’s make sugar free candy, but again beware of trans fats and added chemicals. Carob chips are great for cooking as well as agave, stevia and sweeteners like splenda are ok if you don’t mind that they’re not natural.

The healthiest foods may be those that are not processed but in our busy society we may not always have time to cook from scratch or to cook at all. Fortunately, many companies that specialize in vegetarian/vegan packaged food. Amy’s, Garden Burger, Yves Veggie Cuisine and Tofurky make great products from veggie burgers, sandwich slices, soups, chilies, and frozen dinners just to name a few. Health conscious stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods often have great, quick alternatives for vegetarian diabetics. If there are no health food stores in your area then try requesting products from your local grocery store or buy online. Also, try Asian and other ethnic grocery stores as well as farmer’s markets for certain products. Learning to navigate with these dietary restrictions can be challenging but is vastly rewarding to your health and well being.

I am in no way a physician of any kind and do not use this article in place of consulting your doctor.

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