Vegetarian Diet for Diabetics

Authored by The Rx Advocates, / Medically Reviewed by Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS


A diabetes diagnosis can seem life-altering and overwhelming for some people. The good news is there are many medications and simple lifestyle modifications that can help manage the condition.

Can a vegetarian diet work for diabetics? Of course it can. There are some considerations all diabetics need to keep in mind when it comes to managing their blood sugar. A healthy vegetarian can be a tool in your diabetic toolbox to manage your symptoms.

While a vegetarian diet can be perfectly healthy for people with diabetes, know that it is not a cure for diabetes. No one diet has been proven to cure diabetes. There is a lot of freedom for diabetic patients to choose a diet that works for their lifestyle and goals.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that results in the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar.

In normal circumstances, the body produces insulin in response to rising blood sugar. In diabetic patients, the body’s ability to produce insulin has been impaired. This results in blood sugar levels rising to dangerous levels, causing serious harm to the body.

Types of Diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, is a genetic condition more likely to be diagnosed in children. Type 1 diabetes makes up about 5-10% of diabetes diagnoses.

There is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes. Most people with type 1 diabetes have to take insulin every day.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that worsens over time and usually gets diagnosed in adults of all ages.

Genetic and lifestyle factors contribute to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. The condition can be prevented or improved by lifestyle factors such as a healthy diet, exercise, and weight loss.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is when a non-diabetic woman becomes diabetic during pregnancy. The condition is usually temporary and resolves after the baby is born. However, it can put the woman at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later.

Symptoms of Diabetes

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual hunger or thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurry vision
  • Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
  • Tiredness
  • Dry skin
  • Frequent infections
  • Slowly healing sores or injuries

In addition to the above symptoms, those with type 1 diabetes may experience nausea or stomach pain.

Some people experience no symptoms.

Risk Factors for Diabetes

Diabetes is caused by having too much glucose circulating in the bloodstream.

However, the reason this happens differs depending on your diagnosis.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune condition where the body attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This impairs the body’s ability to regulate glucose properly.

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:

  • A family history of type 1 diabetes
  • Injury to the pancreas
  • Presence of autoantibodies
  • Viral illness

Type 2 Diabetes

Genetic and lifestyle factors cause type 2 diabetes. Over time the body becomes resistant to insulin, and the pancreas cannot produce enough to properly regulate the glucose in the bloodstream.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Family history of type 2 diabetes or prediabetes
  • Personal history of gestational diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • High blood pressure
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Being older than 45
  • Having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • History of heart disease or stroke
  • Smoking
  • Certain racial groups are more at risk, including Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian Americans

Gestational Diabetes

The cause of gestational diabetes is still unclear. Rising hormones during pregnancy can make it more difficult for some women to check their blood sugar levels, leading to a gestational diabetes diagnosis.

There are some risk factors for the disease, including:

  • Being overweight or obese before pregnancy
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Having prediabetes
  • Having gestational diabetes in prior pregnancies
  • Having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Certain racial groups are more at risk, including Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian Americans

Diabetes Medication

Left untreated, diabetes is a serious condition that can result in damage to major organs and death. Therefore, every diabetic patient needs to have their condition well controlled.

Treatment usually involves monitoring blood sugar levels and administering medication such as insulin. Both oral medication and injections can be used to treat diabetes.

Types of Diabetes Medication

Diet and Lifestyle

Diabetic patients are typically advised to follow a healthy diet and exercise. Both of these habits can help the patient maintain a healthy body weight and regulate glucose levels in the body.

Common diet recommendations include:

  • Eating whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Choosing complex carbs over simple carbs
  • Eating within a certain carb limit each meal
  • Limiting saturated fat and processed food

For best results, diabetic patients should work with a registered dietician for recommendations tailored to their exact needs and preferences.

Considerations for Vegetarians

A vegetarian diet can be healthy or unhealthy, so food choice still matters.

Regarding regulating blood sugar, some of the most important nutrients to consume are protein, fat, and fiber. That is because protein, fat, and fiber slow glucose absorption into the bloodstream, preventing large glucose spikes.


The good news is a diet full of plants is typically also full of fiber. A vegetarian diet full of plants is usually bound to meet the recommendation of 20 – 35 grams of fiber a day.

Vegetarian sources of fiber include:

  • Vegetables, especially leafy greens
  • Whole fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and legumes


Protein is also an essential nutrient for diabetics and everyone. Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based protein sources for vegetarians to include in their diet. This includes:

  • Dried or canned beans
  • Peas and lentils
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Soy and soy products
  • Meat substitutes
  • Eggs and dairy products (allowed for Lacto-ovo vegetarians)


There are plenty of sources of healthy fat in a vegetarian diet. It is a good idea to consume protein, fat, and fiber with every meal and snack to moderate glucose spikes.

Some sources of healthy fat in a vegetarian diet include:

  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Avocados
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Cheese and dairy products
  • Eggs


Carbohydrates are part of a healthy vegetarian diet for diabetics. However, carbs should ideally be paired with protein, fat, and/or fiber. Complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will also naturally have more fiber in them and are better choices for diabetics.

Examples of simple carbs include white bread, pasta or rice, crackers, and sweets. These carbs should be limited as they don’t have much nutritional value and can cause glucose spikes.

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