(RitaE / pixabay)
It’s hard to find good information on nutrition these days. Between snake oil salesmen pushing an array of unhealthy or useless products, the diet industry pushing new fads every year, and the food industry pushing their newest microwaveable cuisine, figuring out what we can eat is a dizzying task. Is veganism a sustainable diet choice for anyone? Is it compatible with diabetes? We’re here to answer the tough questions for you.
What do I need to know?
First: A vegan diet is a sustainable, long-term diet, but it takes some planning. The most important thing to do is pay attention to the kinds of vegan foods you are consuming. While many cookies, chips, and sodas are vegan-friendly, they aren’t very good for you and won’t help you control your blood sugar. To keep a healthy vegan diet, you should focus on consuming fruits, vegetables, greens, legumes, nuts, grains, and fortified foods like non-dairy milks or enriched grains. This will ensure you consume adequate amounts of macronutrients (fats, protein, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
For people with diabetes, the most challenging part of a vegan diet will be managing the amount of carbohydrates consumed. As most people’s favorite vegan staples, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, and legumes, are high in carbohydrates, it can be difficult for some to keep on a vegan diet while counting carbs.
One way is to focus on consuming foods with good amounts of unsaturated fats, such as nuts, avocados, seeds, etc. Additionally, choosing foods that are high in protein, such as legumes or lentils, can help keep your ratio of carbs to fats and proteins balanced. Trying to eat the same amount of carbs daily can help make your insulin injections easier to calculate and keep your blood glucose steady throughout the day.
In addition to managing carbohydrates, it is essential that vegans monitor their micronutrient intake. Some essential vitamins and minerals are either not found in plant-based foods or not readily absorbed by the body from plant sources. These are some supplements that are either absolutely necessary or highly recommended for vegan adherents:
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is naturally found only in animal products. This vitamin is used by your body to create red blood cells, maintain nerve function, and maintain your cells. Vitamin B12 deficiencies can take three to five years to develop, meaning many people can develop a deficiency without realizing it. This leads to extreme fatigue, anemia, and irreversible damage to the body. Vegans can get adequate B12 by eating enriched and fortified foods containing B12 and taking an oral supplement. B12 injections are widely considered very effective as well.
While many plants are high in iron, it is not always in a form that is well-metabolized by the body. The most easily absorbed form of iron is heme-iron, found in animal products. People on vegan diets can plan on consuming a wide variety of plant-based iron sources to compensate for non-heme iron’s poor bioavailability. It’s also a good idea to talk to a doctor about taking an oral supplement. A good rule of thumb for vegans is to aim for roughly 1.8 times more iron from non-heme sources than meat eaters.
Calcium and Vitamin D
These vitamins work together to maintain your body’s bones. Calcium sources for vegans include foods like bok choy, kale, mustard greens, and fortified plant milks. The recommended daily amount of calcium is 1000 milligrams each day.
Vitamin D is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the country, at least partly due to the lack of time most people spend outdoors. Unfortunately, vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, so lacking one can lead to a deficiency of the other. Vitamin D is formed by spending time outside in the sunlight. As sunlight hits the skin, your body creates vitamin D out of cholesterol, which in turn is used to help you absorb calcium. Alternatively, vitamin D supplements can be used, but spending time outdoors has the additional benefit of improving your mood and overall health.
Zinc is a mineral that’s not common in most plant-based foods. However, it is necessary to maintain a healthy body. Vegans should aim for approximately 1.5 times the daily recommended amount of zinc to ensure that they are absorbing adequate amounts from the food they eat. Good plant-based sources of zinc include nuts, seeds, legumes, wheat germ, tofu, and whole grains.
While iodine deficiency can cause thyroid issues, few Americans are at risk for iodine deficiency. The introduction of iodized salt has made it simple to consume adequate amounts. Besides iodized salt, the most common sources of iodine are animal products, such as fish, meat, eggs, and dairy. Vegans who use non-iodized salt, such as kosher salt, can look to products like seaweed for iodine, but note that iodine content in seaweed is variable. The Vegan Society recommends taking a good iodine supplement. Just make sure to talk to your doctor before you start on one.
As you can see, there are quite a few nutrients to consider if you intend to live a long and healthy life as a vegan. Many nutrient deficiencies are slow to develop and once developed are slow to cure.
The best way to avoid any problems is to plan carefully and prevent those problems in the first place. People with diabetes are already pros at planning their meals, counting carbs, and adjusting their insulin, so adding in a few extra nutrients to think about should be no problem.
Veganism is a great way to stay healthy, enjoy life, and enjoy food. Not only that, it’s a great way to live fearlessly, which is the Skin Grip way. Stay hungry, friends! And live the way you want to live with our adhesive patches for Freestyle Libre, Dexcom G6, Omnipod, and other devices. Our ultra-strong adhesives keep your devices firmly in place so that you can focus on staying healthy and living life to the fullest.
*Disclaimer: All content and information in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult your health care provider before making any adjustments to your diet or diabetes management.