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A Vegan Diet How-To Guide for Diabetes

marketDiet changes are the cornerstone to treating type 2 diabetes. Current diet recommendations require restricting portion sizes, measuring and weighing foods, and limiting the total amount of carbohydrate. However, evidence suggests that a different dietary approach may be more effective and easier to follow.

Part of the value of a low-fat, plant-based diet is that it is very low in saturated fat—that is, the kind of fat that is found especially in meats, dairy products, and tropical oils (coconut, palm, or palm kernel oil). To cut fat effectively, you’ll want to do two things: avoid animal-derived products and avoid added vegetable oils. Although oils are often thought of as healthier than animal fats, they are just as high in calories.

The way of eating explained below does not require weighing or measuring, and you will never go hungry.

1. A Vegan Diet: Avoiding Animal Products
Animal products contain fat, especially saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, and certain forms of cancer. These products also contain cholesterol, something never found in foods from plants. And, of course, animal products contain animal protein. It may surprise you to learn that diets high in animal protein can aggravate kidney problems and calcium losses. Animal products never provide fiber or healthful complex carbohydrate. 
A vegan diet is one that contains no animal products at all. So, to be specific, here are the foods you’ll want to avoid: red meat, poultry and fish, dairy products, and eggs.

2. Avoiding Added Vegetable Oils and Other High-Fat Foods
Although most vegetable oils are in some ways healthier than animal fats, you will still want to keep them to a minimum. All fats and oils are highly concentrated in calories. A gram of any fat or oil contains nine calories, compared with only four calories for a gram of carbohydrate.
You’ll also want to avoid foods fried in oil, oily toppings, and olives, avocados, and peanut butter.

3. Low Glycemic Index
The glycemic index identifies foods that increase blood sugar rapidly and allows you to favor foods that have much less effect on blood sugar. High-glycemic-index foods include sugar itself, white potatoes, most wheat flour products, and most cold cereals.

Quick Glycemic Guide

High-GI (avoid)

White or wheat bread
Most cold cereals
Watermelon,  pineapple
Baking potatoes

Low-GI (enjoy)

Pumpernickel or rye bread
Oats, bran cereals, Grape-nuts
Most fruits
Sweet potatoes
Rice, barley, couscous
Beans, peas, lentils
Most vegetables

4. Go High-Fiber
Aim for 40 grams of fiber a day, but start slowly. Load up on beans, vegetables, and fruits. Choose whole grains (try barley, oats, quinoa, millet, whole wheat pasta, etc.). Aim for at least 3 grams per serving on labels and at least 10 grams per meal.

5. Volumetrics
Here is an optional step that can help with weight control. The idea is to eat foods that have fewer calories than grams per serving. Try adding lots of soups, salads, and foods cooked in water (like oatmeal) to your daily diet. These “heavy” foods will make you fill up without taking in a lot of calories.

6. Focus on the ‘New Four Food Groups’
Choose unlimited amounts of grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Small amounts of nonfat condiments, fat-free vegan cookies and crackers, alcohol, and coffee are also OK.

Protein: Plant foods have plenty of protein. The recommended amount of protein in the diet for postmenopausal women is 10 percent of calories. Most vegetables, legumes, and grains contain this amount or more. Those seeking extra protein can choose more beans, asparagus, mushrooms, and broccoli.

Calcium: Because diets rich in animal protein cause the body to lose more calcium, a person on a vegan diet needs less calcium to stay in calcium balance. Good sources of calcium include broccoli, kale, collards, mustard greens, beans, figs, fortified juices and cereals, and soy or rice milks.

Vitamin B12: Those following a diet free of animal products for more than three years (or at anytime in childhood, pregnancy, or nursing) should take a B12 supplement of 5 micrograms per day. Any common multiple vitamin will provide this amount. 

Sample Menus


  • Hot cereals: oatmeal with cinnamon, raisins, and/or applesauce
  • All-Bran or muesli with nonfat soy or rice milk and/or berries, peach, or banana
  • Apples, strawberries, bananas, oranges, or other fruit
  • Pumpernickel or rye toast topped with jam (no butter or margarine)
  • Oven-roasted sweet potato home fries solo or smothered with sautéed mushrooms, peppers, and onions
  • Tofu scrambler


  • Garden salad with lemon juice, fat-free dressing, or soy or teriyaki sauce
  • Legume-based salads: three-bean, chickpea, lentil, or black bean and corn salads
  • Grain-based salads: noodle, couscous, bulgur, or rice salads
  • Soups: carrot-ginger, mixed vegetable, black bean, vegetarian chili, spinach lentil, minestrone, split pea, etc.
  • Hummus spread into whole wheat pita with grated carrots, sprouts, and cucumbers
  • Black bean and sweet potato burrito with corn and tomatoes
  • Sandwich made with fat-free meat alternatives such as barbecue seitan, Lightlife Smart Deli turkey style, or Yves veggie pepperoni slices and your favorite sandwich veggies


  • Pasta marinara: can be made with many commercial sauces (any brand that has less than 2 grams fat per serving and is free of animal products)
  • Beans and rice: black beans with salsa, vegetarian baked beans, or fat-free refried beans
  • Soft tacos: a flour tortilla filled with beans, lettuce, tomato, and salsa
  • Fajitas: Lightly sautéed sliced bell peppers, onion, and eggplant with fajita seasonings
  • Chili: homemade, or vegetarian boxed or canned versions
  • Veggie lasagna: Low-fat tofu replaces the ricotta cheese, layered with grilled veggies
  • Vegetable stir-fry: vegetables seasoned with soy sauce or other low-fat stir-fry sauce and served over pasta, beans, or rice


  • Fruit
  • Carrot, celery, or other vegetables with low-fat hummus
  • Baked tortilla chips with salsa or bean dip
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Toast with jam


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