Could switching to a vegetarian diet cure my diabetes?

Answers from M. Regina Castro, M.D.

A vegetarian diet probably won't cure your diabetes. But it may offer some benefits over a nonvegetarian diet — such as helping to better control your weight, reducing your risk of some diabetes-associated complications and possibly even making your body more responsive to insulin.

There's no single vegetarian eating plan. For example, some allow dairy products while others don't allow any animal products (vegans). The benefits of a vegetarian diet depend on the type of diet you choose and the food choices you make when following the diet. For most, however, eating a vegetarian diet:

  • Promotes a healthy weight. Vegetarian diets are often lower in calories than are nonvegetarian diets, which can help with weight management. Also, people following a vegan diet tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than do people who follow a nonvegetarian diet. A healthy body weight can improve blood sugar control and reduce your risk of diabetes complications.
  • Improves blood sugar control and insulin response. Eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts — features of a vegetarian diet — can improve blood sugar control and make your body more responsive to insulin. This may mean taking less medication and lowering your risk of diabetes-related complications. But even a vegetarian diet can have the opposite effect on blood sugar if it is rich in simple carbohydrates — especially starches, such as potatoes, white rice and white bread.
  • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. A strict vegan diet is cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat and usually high in soluble fiber. A low-fat vegetarian diet can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease — a common complication of people who have diabetes.

If you're considering a vegetarian diet, it may be helpful to speak with a dietitian who can help you create an eating plan that provides all the necessary nutrients and the right number of calories to maintain a healthy weight. As with any diet, it's important to stay within an appropriate calorie range to lose weight if that's your goal.

With

M. Regina Castro, M.D.

Nov. 07, 2012